East Hawaii News

County Council Passes Resolution in Support of Ukraine

By Nathan Christophel
March 10, 2022, 6:30 AM HST
* Updated March 10, 1:02 PM
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The Hawai‘i County Council on Wednesday showed its support for the people of Ukraine and condemned the actions of Russia and its invasion of the former Soviet state.

The council approved Resolution 337-22, which supports an independent Ukraine and condemns the Russian military assault that began at the end of February and continues.

The measure was introduced by Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz, who worked with Kristen Alice of Hilo to craft the nonbinding legislation. Alice is a descendent of Ukrainian refugees. Her great-grandmother was born in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, and fled the country as an 8-year-old with her mother and brothers in 1906 to Germany.

Kristen Alice speaks via Zoom in support of Resolution 337-22 during Wednesday’s council meeting. (Screenshot from council meeting)

Alice, who testified during the council’s regular meeting Wednesday in support of the resolution, said she doesn’t know why her great-grandmother’s family fled, but at the time Russian troops were occupying the city where they lived and shooting people in the streets for speaking Ukrainian. From Germany, the little girl was put on a boat and sent to the United States — alone.

“I just want to pause for a moment and try to fathom what kind of atrocities, what kind of circumstances, would lead to a family putting their 8-year-old daughter on a boat to the other side of the world, alone, before cellphones, before internet,” Alice said during her testimony. “I can’t even fathom it.”

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Her great-grandmother never spoke about her home life or where she was from. Alice’s family doesn’t even know who raised her after she came to the United States.

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“I feel a hole in my chest knowing that our culture, our language, our homeland, our family and maybe a religion were taken from my family and especially my great-grandma, who had to endure things that I can’t even imagine.”

But she said that doesn’t compare to the pain people in Ukraine are experiencing now or what the people who have direct connections to and families in Ukraine are feeling — the ones waking up every morning and checking Facebook and text messages to make sure their families and friends are still alive.

“This is what imperialism, militarization and occupation do. This is genocide,” Alice told the council via Zoom. “So I’m asking our county to stand up against this genocide in Ukraine and condemn the Russian invasion. And I’m also hoping that we will stand against it in other places, including Hawai‘i and Afghanistan and places that are not getting the same attention that European countries get when this happens.”

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Two others testified in support of the resolution. One of whom was Paul Normann, who not only feels for the people of Ukraine but also has friends in Russia who are experiencing financial hardship because of the many sanctions being imposed on that nation because of the invasion.

“I recognize that we are just one county among thousands and that we have a very small voice when it comes to international politics. But you know, we do what we can do,” said Normann via Zoom. “I think it’s important for us to show our support for Ukraine and Ukrainian people both abroad and living in our community.”

Council members, several of whom were clad in blue and yellow, the colors of the Ukraine flag, agreed.

Councilman Matt Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder said it’s hard to watch another nation be crushed and it can feel like it’s happening far away. But in the case of what’s happening in Ukraine, the world is getting smaller because of social media, speeding up the transfer of information so people not on the front lines can feel what’s happening there.

It also hits a little close to home for Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder. He is of Armenian descent and watched not long ago when Turkey wiped out millions of Armenians.

“Seeing this unfold and looking at what’s happening now and the backlash, it’s gross. I cannot believe humans can still be on this track that this is somehow useful towards an end,” he said. “It’s not. It’s just disturbing that human beings cannot get past this notion of greed or I don’t have enough or I gotta attack for whatever reason I gotta do it. I just don’t like it and I wish it was different. If this makes any difference in the world, then good.”

Before ending his comments, the Councilman asked, “Can’t we do better as a species?”

“This situation really is troubling and we are on the cusp of World War III. No question about it,” said Councilman Aaron Chung.

He called Russian President Vladimir Putin a bully and said he is not sure how far Putin can be pushed with the economic sanctions now being levied on Russia.

“What’s happening to the people in Ukraine, is just, it shouldn’t happen,” said Chung. “Maybe that’s what happens, you know, like, every 60 years or maybe it’s just how the world goes. But we are in for some really troubling times, unfortunately. Hopefully, cooler minds can prevail.”

Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy said the resolution addresses the bully Putin is and also lifts up the people of Ukraine, saying Hawai‘i County supports them.

“That’s how black and white it is for me,” said Lee Loy.

“This is all about showing that we care,” said Councilman Tim Richards.

Councilwoman Heather Kimball admitted that the measure is nonbinding, but said it’s important for the council to show it’s support for Ukraine and its people.

“It’s amazing to me in this day and age that we’re still talking about the possibility of nuclear war or nuclear disaster,” she said.

Kimball remembers growing up during the Cold War and hearing something fly over her house, making her think, “Oh, is that a missile?” She doesn’t want her children to be in that same position and living with that anxiety.

Kierkiewicz, responding to several testifiers who opposed the resolution for reasons ranging from it being too provocative and saying it only instigates war instead of supporting peace to claims of the United States having ulterior motives for backing the Ukrainians, said she appreciated all the testifiers who came forward and shared their honest opinions about the situation, but the measure was intended to be provocative.

“The bottom line is freedom is not free,” Kierkiewicz said. “Ukraine is under siege. They didn’t ask for this. Russia is saying this is a special military operation, but I was incredibly unnerved when Vladimir Putin said anyone who tries to intervene in these attacks must know that Russia’s answer will be immediate and will lead to such consequences as you have never experienced in your history.”

The councilwoman became visibly emotional during her comments, tears running down her cheeks by the time she was finished speaking.

“Ukraine is fighting to survive,” Kierkiewicz said. “Their very existence, their democratic and economic reforms are on the line.”

She, too, knows the resolution is a symbolic act, but asked her fellow council members to think about what it would mean to the people of Ukraine to know that in Hawai‘i, they have people who are sending them aloha and telling them they stand together.

“I’m not sorry if this resolution offends some people, but I wanted to take a bold stand,” Kierkiewicz said. “I really did, because Putin is not respecting the sanctity of life, he’s not respecting the cease-fire that he agreed to and he bombed a maternity hospital today. He’s violating international and humanitarian law.”

She said the resolution includes items that are all things Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called for and included in other similar measures passed or being considered by government bodies throughout the nation. She wanted to send a strong message that when there’s a call for help, Hawai‘i County would respond.

Councilman Holeka Inaba said the situation in Ukraine is history in the making, and while he supported the resolution, he reminded the council that Hawai‘i was a nation, a people, taken over by a bully — the United States. He said he needed to speak to that as a Hawaiian and for the people he represents.

“I’ll be supporting this resolution, but let us not forget what has happened and what continues to happen to our island home at the hands of the United States,” said Inaba.

Before the vote on the resolution, Council Chairwoman Maile David thanked Kierkiewicz for introducing the measure and said what Inaba spoke about is a hurt that has endured for generations. The difference between what happened in the islands in the 1800s and today, however, is while, yes, some Hawaiians did die, what’s happening in Ukraine is just inhumane.

“The threat that Mr. Chung is speaking of is what has grown from the experiences of our people to now, where it involves the potential for nuclear destruction of the world,” said David. “For me, I think you’re support and this resolution proves that no matter what, we cannot be silent and watch people, innocent people, be murdered by anybody.”

She also said approval of the resolution, while nonbinding, comes with a lot of aloha and support for Ukraine and its people.

Nathan Christophel
Nathan Christophel has more than 20 years of experience in journalism, starting out as a reporter and working his way up to become a copy editor and page designer, most recently at the Hawaii Tribune-Herald in Hilo.
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