55 / 43
      61 / 43
      58 / 40

      Members of Syracuse Ukrainian community keep close eye on Europe

      As the employees of Kava Cafà prepare for their grand opening this Saturday, their excitement is tempered by the political climate in eastern Europe. Many of the workers at the Ukrainian coffee house and restaurant are in daily contact with close family members and friends living in their homeland.

      As tensions mount between Russia and the West over the revolution playing out in Kiev, the local Ukrainian community nervously looks on as well.

      "There's a joke now that people will finally know who we are and where we are," said Vera Gerasimovich, manager at Kava Cafà . "Now people won't be like, 'Oh is Ukraine Russia?' People actually know where it is and who we are. That we're not the same country we're completely separate and we hope to stay that way."

      Vera's family fled Ukraine in 1988. Seeking religious freedoms denied in the former Soviet bloc state, her family eventually settled in Syracuse. Vera was only an infant at the time. Her older brother Vitaly, owner of Kava Cafà , remembers their hardships but isn't impressed with the direction the country has taken since the fall of the USSR.

      "If you have a profitable business in the Ukraine, government officials will come up to you and tell you that you have to sell it," explained Vitaly. "If you don't they'll just take it from you. What kind of democratic country is this? It's not. It's run like the mafia."

      Vitaly cites widespread corruption, a culture of bribery and gross misappropriation of government monies as reasons that protests against the Viktor Yanukovych government began months ago. When the now-deposed president went back on a promise to sign a pact with the European Union, those protests escalated into violence.

      Now with Russian forces mounting in the Crimean region, Vitaly and his employees can only look on and pray for the future of their homeland.