Baltimore's Ukrainians were cleaning up after a momentous celebration of Ukraine's new-found independence from the Soviet Union when they were startled by news that their homeland was joining a commonwealth with Byelorussia and the Russian republic.
"Why would they want to go back to the deadly embrace of the Soviets?" the Rev. Uiry Markewych of St. Michael's Ukrainian Catholic Church in Highlandtown, asked yesterday. The celebration was held there Sunday.
"The people have learned from the past -- don't trust the Russian," Markewych said.
To Eric Belgrad, who teaches U.S.-Soviet relations at Towson State University, news of the commonwealth struck him as "one of the strangest creatures that has come up in the history of politics."
To Steve Hanke, who teaches applied economics at Johns Hopkins , the commonwealth lights the way for conversion to a market economy, with no more planning directives by a central Soviet government.
Hanke, who has been an economic adviser to the deputy prime minister of the Russian federation and to the president of Ukraine, could not speculate far on where this commonwealth idea would lead. "We're clearly in the dynamics of a revolution," he said, "and it's hard to predict what the end point is going to look like."
But speculation was rife among Ukrainian-Americans in Baltimore as they worried and hoped for the fledgling independence of their homeland.
Taras Charchalis, a St. Michael's parishioner, said Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk has so far proved wilier than expected in dealing with Western nations on issues of debt and trade. If the commonwealth is a purely economic relationship, Charchalis said, it would facilitate the flow of trade among the three republics. But, if there are political obligations, too, he said, "I'm a little afraid the Russian republic will predominate as it did in the Soviet Union."
Luba Chornodolsky, who returned to her home in Hamilton last month from a three-week stay in Ukraine, was suspicious of where Kravchuk is taking the country. "You still don't know what's lingering in the mentality of an ex-Communist," she said.
The vote for independence passed overwhelmingly on Dec. 1.
"We did absolutely and totally want to eject ourselves from the Russian domination," said Chornodolsky, a registered nurse, whose parents were born in Ukraine.
But Hanke, the Hopkins professor, said the commonwealth shouldn't pose any threat to the sovereignty of the republics taking part. "I think it will do nothing more than strengthen that," he said, since the commonwealth will supplant the central Soviet government, which has been "throwing sand in the gears" of economic reform.
The commonwealth should allow for politically independent republics, "with virtually no trade barriers amongst them," he said, which is important because the republics still need each other economically.