Local Ukranian population keeping a close eye on protests

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SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. - The conflict in Ukraine may seem a world away for many of us. But thousands of people of Ukrainian descent who live in the North Port area are watching closely.

Venice residents Nellie Lechman and her husband Wolomyr eagerly read about and watch the protests in Ukraine. "The last three months we have this on as much as possible,” says Nellie.

While many of us are watching the Olympics in Russia these days, the Lechman's are focused on the struggle less than 1,000 miles away from the games. "It is most important. I must say I have not even thought about the Olympics or a lot of other things going on. To me it is most important to see what happens in Ukraine."

The Lechman's have been talking to family there and contacting local, state, and national politicians looking for support, all while networking with local groups.

“Organizations like the Ukrainian Women's League, branch 56, which is located here, has collected almost $15,000 and sent for medicine," says Nellie.

"This is really a fight for freedom." Wolomyr says the people of Ukraine want what Americans have. He says the protestors are fighting for a free European Democratic nation, and that current leaders though are working more with Russia, who is offering billions of dollars to help bail out the country which is struggling financially.

He says Russian leaders just want to bring back the old Soviet Union their families fled from. "They are interested in power. They want to be the counterbalance to the west, like they were during the Cold War. They want to do the same thing again."

Nellie says Tuesday she and others contacted Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Wednesday, his office sent out a statement which reads in part: "Ukraine's future lies in Europe, not Vladimir Putin's Russia. America stands with those who seek freedom even at great risk to their own security. The world is watching."

"Nobody is asking to send the troops or do the fighting, no. Use your influence," says Wolomyr.

It’s a plea thousands there are making for freedom and many more around the world even here in our own back yard are backing up.

We are told some members of this community have even gone and taken part in the protests in Ukraine, which have been going on since November.