PITTSBURGH — Bohdan Czmola kicked off the Ukrainian Film Festival on Saturday night with a topical opener: “Has anybody been watching the news this week?”
After years of being largely overlooked in America, Ukraine, the country of Mr. Czmola’s parents, was suddenly in the middle of a blockbuster news story in the United States. It has been in more headlines in the space of a few days than Mr. Czmola remembers in all of his 68 years.
“Ukraine,” Mr. Czmola declared, like a proud father, to the 30 or so people in the auditorium, “is the hot topic of discussion.”
Most of the time, all that Americans typically know about Ukraine is — maybe — the food and music, lamented Mr. Czmola and others, sitting in the auditorium before the first film of the night. Some might have paid a little attention during the recent revolutions, or were aware that a war is going on in eastern Ukraine in which 13,000 people have been killed. The crowd bristled that people still seemed to associate Ukraine with tsarist pogroms, pointing out that its voters had recently elected a Jewish comedian as president.
Maddeningly to many with Ukrainian heritage, pundits on TV even occasionally say “the Ukraine,” as if it were still just another region of the Russian empire.
“They don’t say the France or the Spain,” muttered Paul Gerlach, the president of the Ukrainian Community of Western Pennsylvania, which had organized the film festival.
But suddenly the news broke that President Trump, in a phone call with Ukraine’s president, had pushed for an investigation into the Biden family, and Ukraine was the only thing anyone on the news was talking about. It might be bad news for Mr. Trump, or Joe Biden, or Rudy Giuliani. But for Ukraine?
While many analysts see multiple downsides for Ukraine in these developments, Mr. Czmola didn’t see it that way.
“I think it’s extremely positive,” he declared. “The more news about Ukraine the better.”
To clarify: Few in the audience thought this would end badly for Mr. Trump. In interview after interview, people saw the whole thing as cooked up by Democrats and in fact revealing much more about the unsavoriness of the Biden family. The Ukrainian-American diaspora here, at least among the largely middle-aged people who go to film festivals, was solid Trump country.
“This president is wonderful,” said Hanna Dziamko, 48, a pharmacist who immigrated to the United States in 1997. “Everything he does is just unbelievable, everything he touches is successful.”
This affection is driven in part by what they see as an unforgivably feeble response by the Obama administration to Russian intrusion into Ukraine. Mr. Trump may have delayed sending military aid to Ukraine — a delay at the heart of the scandal — but unlike his predecessor, he had agreed to provide Ukraine with arms.
More fundamentally, many hold a deep distrust, shared by immigrants from other communist or formerly communist countries like Cuba or Vietnam, for anyone with even the slightest good word to say about socialism or anything like it.
“We had eight years of Obama taking us back to socialism,” Ms. Dziamko said. “We don’t want it.”
The contempt for socialism is interwoven with a contempt for Russian domination, which at the current moment means a furious loathing of President Vladimir V. Putin. So the question presents itself: What of Mr. Trump’s fond words for Mr. Putin, his desire to bring Russia back into the Group of 7, his associates’ tendency to work for Kremlin interests, his expressed wish that the president of Ukraine “get together” with Mr. Putin?
Some of this is indeed hard to make sense of, several said. But, they cautioned, it is important to understand that Mr. Trump deals in long-game strategy.
“What he’s doing, it might look bad for Ukraine today, but it’s going to look great for Ukraine in a year,” said George Honchar, a semiretired agronomist whose front porch doormat has a picture of Mr. Putin’s face on it, along with an invitation in Ukrainian to wipe your feet.
What all this could do for Ukraine’s profile here in the United States, he said, that was the thing to focus on.
“After what happened this week, I wouldn’t be surprised that we'll see more kids in our Ukrainian school, from parents who might have been ashamed of their roots,” he said on Friday night at the Ukrainian American Citizens Club, a smoky bar and meeting hall in the Pittsburgh suburb of Carnegie. “This gives them pride, or it should! And if it doesn’t, they’re fools.”
The club, which sits across from a striking Ukrainian Orthodox church, is adorned with Ukrainian flags and a painting of a girl playing the bandura, the Ukrainian national instrument. Its membership is mostly Irish.
Western Pennsylvania has drawn waves of Ukrainian immigrants, starting in the late 19th century when they came in to power the steel mills, coal mines and railroad crews. The golden domes of Ukrainian Catholic and Orthodox churches tower throughout the region. But the congregations are old and shrinking, often reliant on homemade pierogi sales to pay for basic repairs. Though as many as 100,000 people in the region have Ukrainian heritage, a cohesive community never really formed here, to the dismay of self-described patriots like Mr. Honchar. He hoped this would change.
On Friday night, at his invitation, a small group gathered in the dimly lit event hall at the club, talking through the week’s events. Everyone believed the Democrats were making something out of nothing, that Mr. Trump was right to balk at corruption in Ukraine — even the biggest Ukraine boosters could not dispute that.
But not everyone was optimistic that this time in the spotlight would amount to much.
“It’s like a flash in the pan,” said Stephen Haluszczak, 56, who is active in efforts to promote local Ukrainian identity. He went through the long history of Ukraine being batted around by larger powers. “Again, Ukraine is just a pawn on the chessboard.”
The next night, when the lights came on after the first film at the festival — a film that took place in the 1930s, portraying the brutality of Soviet domination — Mr. Honchar stood up at his seat.
“This place should be full. Shame on our people,” he declared to the auditorium. “And to our fellow Americans who are considering socialism: Shame on you!”
He was too choked up to say more, he said, and he walked out to the lobby. But Natalie Onufrey, 57, had something she wanted to add.
“Everything in this movie, it happened,” she said. It was in fact much worse than that, she went on: terror, man-made famine, mass murder. If people disagreed about politics, or criticized the government, they were killed.
“Now we come home and we listen to all this emptiness,” she said of the news in America, her home for nearly three decades. Life isn’t perfect; no politician is perfect, she said. But all of the partisan sparring is exasperating. “This country is a dream,” she said. “What are we complaining about? It’s an absolute sin.”
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