photo: The Huffington Post
Several weeks ago, when Ukrainian-American Viktor Kee decided that he would embark on a cross-country road trip to generate support for his troubled homeland, he had no idea how unpredictable the headwinds of fate could actually be.
"I had several weeks between shows in San Jose, Ca., and New York City," notes Kee, a renowned Cirque du Soleil performer. "I was supposed to fly to New York and then I thought, maybe I can make a supportive gesture for Ukraine because there were so many demonstrations going on."
But then everything changed.
"Suddenly things had escalated to the point where there was so much violence and shooting that people died," Kee points out.
I was watching the news and talking to my family every day. It got to the point where support was not enough. I had to do something more -- something to really help. I thought I could raise funds for the families -- people had lost their family members; their fathers.
As many as 100 people were killed in fierce clashes between police and protestors last month.
In a very short amount of time, Kee's initial idea quickly and quite boldly morphed into a mission to raise even more awareness on the situation, generate discussion and encourage people to get involved.
To that end, he launched the Help Ukraine Project, with the sole purpose of delivering support from Americans to Ukrainian citizens seeking freedom. As Kee, who is 43, notes about the project on its website, "Freedom to choose, freedom from corruption, freedom to elect people to represent their government."
But the nearly 3,000-mile trip required transportation.
Kee purchased a 2003 911 4S Porsche and immediately had it adorned in the colors of his homeland -- he was born in Priluki but spent a great deal of time in nearby Kiev. Seeking media savvy support, Kee then made travel arrangements for Ukrainian colleague/video editor/photographer (25-year-old Kate Pavlichenko) to join him on the venture, which officially kicks off in San Francisco's Justin Herman Plaza at 12:30 p.m. Monday March 3.
From San Francisco, the itinerary includes stops in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix and other large cities in the East, including Houston, Atlanta, Washington D.C. and New York City. (Click here for more details.) At each portal Kee and Pavlichenko plan to pass out information placards, answer questions, engage in discussions and meet with the media. Kee, who has lived in the U.S. for 20 years, will also asks individuals to sign a clothe flag along the way.
"Hopefully, it would be a step forward and a support for the situation," Kee says. "When I see pictures of what happened and what is happening in Ukraine, I feel bad. It's like a war zone. I cannot comprehend it."
The endeavor comes at a particularly precarious time.
Even after a bloody battle between protestors and police in Kiev last month forced President Viktor F. Yanukovych to flee the country and new leaders were put in place in late February, the sudden combination of a strongly pro-Western cabinet as well as economic aid promised by the United States did little to offer long-lasting levity for the beleaguered country.
One word: Russia.
Make that Putin.
The Russian leader's bold announcement of Russia's right to deploy troops in Ukraine -- which boasts 46 million people -- has given birth to one of the most dramatic and direct clashes between the West and Russia since the Cold War. All this after heated warnings from President Barack Obama and a number of other Western leaders.
The most recent developments found Russian military seizing Ukraine's Crimean peninsula, which sparked Ukraine's new leaders to accuse Russia on Sunday of "declaring war." Russian generals reportedly instructed their troops to three bases in Crimea and demanded that Ukrainian forces surrender weapons.
Elsewhere, troops in Kiev were quickly mobilized and military reservists were beckoned as the crises continues to escalate.
In a CNN interview, Vladislav Seleznyov, spokesman for the Crimean Media Center of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, noted that while there was no "open confrontation between Russian and Ukrainian military forces in Crimea," Ukrainian troops will "continue to protect and serve Ukraine."
But Ukrainian interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said the events were clearly a "red alert" and "not a threat -- this is actually a declaration of war to my country."
On Sunday, it was also reported that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is heading to the Ukraine for talks.
Meanwhile, back in California, Kee has already met with various media and plans to move forward with his cross-country trip. He worries about his mother, who is in Russia, and his brother, who is in Kiev.
When asked to ponder best-case scenarios for the Ukraine, he says, "I am not a politician but I would like to see the country re-elect all the parliament members and elect a president... and make the country stronger with a more democratic structure. This will bring them closer to Europe and rebuild the political system and be more internationally-oriented, because right now, Russia is too dominate in its influence."
"As much as Ukrainians may feel they are Ukrainians, they never feel like they really are."
This article was updated March 3.