Rep. Murphy holds town meeting to discuss Ukraine

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The conversation on the crisis in Ukraine extended Friday to a church basement in Carnegie.

U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, and more than two dozen constituents gathered in the lower hall of the St. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Orthodox Church for a town hall meeting about the tumult in the country, currently divided between a pro-Russian population -- allied with political movements and churches in eastern Ukraine -- and nationalist Ukrainians to the west.

"I am here to listen and learn," he said.

For Mr. Murphy, the issues are personal.

His chief of staff is Ukrainian-American and another staffer is fluent in Russian and helps translate articles for his office, he said. And in June, he met with a delegation from Ukraine visiting southwestern Pennsylvania to learn more about shale-gas exploration. They gathered with borough residents and elected officials for an informational and cultural exchange at the same church.

The congressman's visit Friday came a day after the U.S. House of Representatives passed the first aid bill for Ukraine's new pro-Western government. The bill now heads to the Senate, which is likely to combine the loan guarantees with measures against Russia.

Mr. Murphy was met with applause when he announced that news at the hourlong discussion Friday, although at least one audience member asked him to push for much more than the $1 billion the Obama administration has pledged in loan guarantees.

"We know that this is a far cry from what is needed," Mr. Murphy said, "but I am deeply concerned about this."

He invited the diverse audience of religious leaders and community members -- the youngest was a toddler with "Ukraine" written on his tiny blue T-shirt -- to share their thoughts and ask questions. Some were Ukrainian natives and still have relatives there.

He asked some of his own questions, too: "How many think that Crimea should have a separate vote for their own independence? How many think that there should be a vote throughout all of Ukraine? How many think there should be no vote at all?"

Svitlana Tomson of Mt. Lebanon was applauded when she said Russian banks and oligarchs should not have access to any Western financial markets where they can invest money.

"If Russians are prevented from accessing financial markets ... they will keep putting pressure on [President Vladimir] Putin and on their Russian government to stop aggression in Ukraine," said Ms. Tomson, who moved to the United States from Ukraine in 1989.

Among the measures against Russia the Senate could include in the bill are penalties on state-owned banks and companies.

In an impassioned speech, Stephen Haluszczak, author of "Ukrainians of Western Pennsylvania," said Ukrainians he knows in the eastern and southern parts of the country have told him they do not welcome a Russian invasion and support an independent Ukraine.

"What you're hearing about there not being support from the people in the Russian-speaking areas of southern and eastern Ukraine is true," he said. "They do not want Russian aggression. There are linguistic problems, there are historical problems -- whether people wanted to go to the [European Union] or to Russia -- but they do not want the Russian invasion."

Molly Born: or 412-263-1944. The Associated Press contributed.

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