help Ukrainian children
By Laura Wides-Munoz, Associated Press
Writer Tue Oct 9, 2007.
MIAMI - Sometimes large-scale international
diplomacy is about small-scale gestures.
On Monday, it was nine Ukrainian children
playing with dolphins at the Miami Seaquarium
while waiting to be fitted with free prosthetic
limbs. Their visit and treatment are courtesy
of Ukrainian first lady Kateryna Yushchenko,
members of South Florida's Cuban-American
community and others.
The nonprofit Cuba Democracy Advocates
wants to build solidarity with Ukraine's
fledgling democratic government by helping
to pay for prosthetics for about 30 low-income
children from the former communist nation
and by increasing medical exchanges.
Many Cuban-Americans see Ukraine as a model
for peaceful political change and want to
support its government and recent criticism
of political repression on the communist
U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Fla.,
has worked with the State Department to
send doctors to Ukraine and most recently
to bring the children to Florida.
"The countries that most understand
the Cuban people - besides the U.S. - are
the countries of Central and Eastern Europe,"
said Diaz-Balart, who is Cuban-American.
"When I go there, I feel so well. The
people there get it."
The Cuban-American community and the U.S.
government are keenly aware of the decades
of medical treatment that Cuba provided
for Ukrainians before pro-Western Viktor
Yushchenko became president two years ago.
Cuba treated thousands of Ukrainian children
after the 1986 explosion at the Chernobyl
Since 2005, much of that aid has dried
up, and relations between the two countries
"The U.S. was concerned that Cuba
would cut out medical support for the Ukraine,
and there was a push to say, 'If you take
a stronger stance on Cuba, there are still
ways to get that support,'" said Carlos
Pascual, vice president and head of foreign
policy for the Brookings Institution in
Washington. Pascual served as U.S. ambassador
to Ukraine from 2000 to 2003 and is also
He called the treatment for the children
a good gesture but symbolic, considering
Ukraine has a population of about 47 million
Yushchenko won his country's 2004 election
after more than a million Ukrainians took
to the streets to protest voter fraud in
favor of the Russian-backed presidential
candidate. Not surprisingly, he has been
critical of Cuba's repression of political
Politics were far from the minds of the
Ukrainian children who arrived last week.
They looked alternately thrilled and terrified
as the dolphins leapt out of the water for
kisses and high-fives.
When asked what he knew about Cuba or Cuban-Americans
before he came to the U.S., Paul Satsuk,
17, of Polonne, Ukraine, grinned.
He mimed smoking a cigar and drinking coffee.
Satsuk couldn't explain why Cuban-Americans
would feel a special connection with his
"These are very good people, with
big hearts," said Satsuk, who lost
half his right arm in an industrial accident
when he was 6.
Vladimir Hynedka, 49, accompanied his young
son Stepha on the trip. He asked his Cuban-American
host family if they were Christians because
he couldn't think of another reason why
they would try so hard to help his son.
The connection between Ukrainians and Cuban-Americans
is understandable, said Taras Tkachuk, 30,
a Ukrainian doctor who works with Kateryna
Yushchenko's charity, Ukraine 3000 Fund,
which helped sponsor the group along with
Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics in Orlando.
"It's difficult to have a democracy
after totalitarianism. Our parents were
born under that system. But these kids,
they look forward. They feel life in a different
way. They are able to use choices,"
Tkachuk said. "The same will one day
be in Cuba."