WOODBINE – The Honorary Consul of Ukraine to Philadelphia had high praise for the people of Cape May County, but showed little affection for the nation of Russia, during her visit to the Sam Azeez Museum of Woodbine Heritage, Jan. 17.
Iryna Mazur, an attorney out of Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania, is an “honorary” consul, meaning she is a volunteer. She just returned from a visit to Ukraine two days before her visit to Woodbine, which was arranged with Mayor William Pikolycky, who is of Ukrainian heritage, and Marcia Bronstein, regional director, American Jewish Committee Philadelphia/Southern New Jersey.
Mazur greeted the audience and said she was a frequent visitor to the area. Later in her talk, she expressed appreciation for the support shown to her native country – from the flying of flags to the raising of funds and supplies to help the Ukrainian people – and especially coming from an area of the country that does not have a lot of Ukrainian heritage – the exception being Woodbine, which was essentially settled by Ukrainian immigrants.
“We love this area, and I’m truly honored and happy to be here and meet all of you,” she said.
She was not as appreciative of the Russian troops who invaded Ukraine Feb. 24, 2022, and who she said are killing or maiming Ukrainian soldiers, as well as murdering and raping Ukrainian men, women, and children.
Speaking about peace negotiations, Mazur was not confident an agreement could be reached with the Russians.
“We all talk about you cannot trust Russians. You cannot trust anything what they say because they will promise you one thing and they will turn around and they will do the exact opposite,” she said.
Mazur said Russia promised “green corridors” where refugees or civilians would be able to leave war zones, and Russians were shooting over people to frighten them or killing people in their vehicles.
“So, that’s why I truly do not believe in any negotiations, not because Ukraine doesn’t want to negotiate right. It’s Russia, who is constantly lying and twisting the truth,” she said.
As Ukraine continues to fight off the Russian army, Mazur spoke about Ukraine’s relationship with its larger, more militarily equipped neighbor. She said when she arrived in the U.S., American people believed that Ukraine was part of Russia. Mazur was born in 1976 in the former Soviet Union, of which Ukraine was a part. Ukraine has a long history of conflicts with Russia, but finally became an independent country Aug. 24, 1991.
Most notably, she said, the Soviets took over Ukraine in the 1920s, 1933, and 1946, and created what the Ukrainians called “Holodomor,” a term created by combining the Ukrainian words for hunger (holod) and extermination (mor). It’s an artificially produced famine.
Independent since 1991, Ukraine was the site of a revolution in 2014 to remove then-President Viktor Yanukovych, who was not in favor of signing a political association and free trade agreement with the European Union.
The Ukrainian Parliament voted 328-0 to remove Yanukovych from office. Russia intervened militarily, which resulted in its annexation of Crimea. The Russian invasion in 2022 is a continuation of events that began in 2014.
Mazur said she did not even understand Ukraine’s history with Russia until the Ukrainian government made public archived Soviet documents that revealed Soviet efforts to eradicate the Ukrainian identity as a separate people and nation.
Mazur said Russian President Vladimir Putin is now intent to rebuild the Russian empire. Mazur told Bronstein that Ukraine and Israel have a kinship regarding the similarities in their history and threats from neighboring nations. Bronstein referred to the current war in Ukraine as “a global fight and a fight for American democracy.”
Mazur feels most people now understand that Ukraine is a free and independent country, but the war in Ukraine has regional and global implications, as well.
“What Ukrainians defend (now), they don’t defend only their borders. They defend the borders of all those NATO countries, and that’s why Poland and Baltic countries are extremely supportive of Ukraine, because if Putin would take Ukraine, then Russian soldiers would be at their doorstep,” she said.
Mazur said there are many organizations in the U.S. that are helping Ukraine, including nonprofit organizations, religious organizations, and those who are assisting Ukrainians who arrived here trying to escape the Russian invasion – many who have no house to return to in Ukraine. She said half a million Ukrainians have arrived in the U.S. since the war began.
Mazur was at the U.S. Capitol for the address to Congress, Dec. 21, 2022, by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. She said she was very proud of the way Zelenskyy was received by American leaders. She later went to Ukraine to celebrate Christmas with her family Jan. 7.
“This Christmas was very, very meaningful for me to be there with my parents. And I spoke with my friends and my family. I have a huge family in Ukraine, and nobody actually said, ‘Oh, we should just give those lands,’ ‘we should just give up Crimea,’ or whatever. You know, everybody says it’s our land and we will defend it and the price is horrible. The price is extremely high, because Ukrainians are paying for their freedom, but not only for their freedom. They’re paying for stability in Europe,” Mazur said.
All the while, Mazur said, the Ukrainian economy is still working. She said even people who are sheltering in caves will come out for a few hours and work.
“I speak to them all the time and they say, ‘Well, if we can’t help on the front, we have to help because of the economy. We have to keep working,” she said.
Mazur expressed optimism for the future of Ukraine, despite the rebuilding effort that will have to take place.
“I would say that after the Ukrainian victory, the country will be rebuilt very quickly,” she said.
Mazur said she is not sure whether people will be able to return to some places, such as Mariupol, which she described as a “huge cemetery at this point,” but believes the residents will start over elsewhere.
She said there is a renewed confidence in the government and military, and she believes foreign investors will be eager to come in and help rebuild Ukraine.
“When the war will be over, I’m sure that Ukraine will be rebuilt very quickly. We just need that victory,” she said.
To contact the author, Christopher South, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 609-886-8600, ext. 128.
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