November 12, 2019 / 6:24 PM / a month ago

Ukraine is 'victim' in Trump impeachment fight, Ukrainian-Americans say

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Regardless of how the House of Representatives’ impeachment hearings into President Donald Trump end, some Ukrainian-Americans believe their ancestral homeland has already become a unwitting victim of tumultuous U.S. politics.

FILE PHOTO: The committee room in the Longworth House Office Building where the first public hearings in the impeachment inquiry against U.S. President Donald Trump are scheduled to take place is shown on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., November 6, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

“I think Ukraine is kind of a victim in this case because I believe they were pushed to do something that is not in the real Ukrainian interest,” said Igor Yarmak, 63, a tech professional in New York City who has voted Republican in the past but dislikes Trump.

The inquiry into whether Trump misused U.S. foreign policy to ask Ukraine to target a domestic political opponent enters a critical phase on Wednesday when Congress holds its first public, televised hearings to question witnesses.

Others among the roughly 1 million people of Ukrainian descent living in the United States also expressed frustration at seeing Ukraine, which largely depends on foreign aid and protection from Russia, dragged into the impeachment fight.

“Once again, Ukraine is in the spotlight for its critical position in eastern Europe and I feel it’s being used by political powers for their own gain,” said Paul Jablonsky, a small business owner and the president of the Ukrainian American Community Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The inquiry comes three years into Trump’s unconventional presidency and as Democrats and Trump’s Republicans are gearing up for a brutal election battle.

Democrats are investigating whether there are grounds to impeach Trump over his July 25 request, in a phone call to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, that the latter investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a key political rival to Trump in 2020.

That call prompted a whistleblower complaint that led congressional Democrats to launch the probe into whether Trump abused his power by withholding nearly $400 million in security assistance to Ukraine to pressure the vulnerable U.S. ally.

“(It is) really disheartening if it does come to pass that President Trump has been using his individual influence as president to further his political ambitions for the next election,” said 59-year-old Jablonsky, who considers himself an independent and agrees with Trump politically on issues including trade.

There are large populations of Ukrainian-Americans in Pennsylvania and Minnesota, which are seen as competitive in next year’s presidential election.

“Trump putting the screws and the pressure on Ukraine ... to extort and grind a poor fledging democracy, it’s beyond the pale of understanding,” said Ulana Mazurkevich, a business owner from the Philadelphia area and a Democrat who declined to give her age.

Ukraine’s Zelenskiy, a comedian and, like Trump, a political novice, won a landslide election victory in April promising voters an end to a conflict with Russian-backed forces in the Donbass region that has killed 13,000 people.

He has been walking a diplomatic tightrope to maintain good relations with both U.S. political sides whose bipartisan support Ukraine counts on for aid and diplomatic cover against Russia following Moscow’s annexation of the Crimea peninsula in 2014.

“He might appear as a weak leader because he was trying to play ball with Trump or he was trying to avoid playing ball with Trump,” said Irina Medvinskaya, a U.S. citizen who was born in Kiev and emigrated to the United States at age 15.

But Medvinskaya, a Democrat, voiced hope that Ukraine could play a historic role if Trump were to be impeached and removed from office.

“If this becomes the death of him, I will be very proud of my motherland.”

Reporting by Maria Caspani; Editing by Scott Malone

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