Hundreds of Long Islanders rallied across the region in recent days against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as U.S. officials expelled Russian diplomats, including those based on the Gold Coast.
Ukrainian Americans and supporters peacefully protested outside the Russian Mission in Glen Cove, in Riverhead, and elsewhere on Long Island to condemn the onslaught that has claimed hundreds of lives in less than a week. And days after local officials at one of those rallies called on President Joe Biden to shutter the Russian-owned Killenworth Estate that has housed the nation’s diplomats for 70 years, the U.S. mission to the United Nations expelled 12 Russian intelligence operatives, citing alleged espionage.
“We don’t need them here,” Nassau County Executive Bruce A. Blakeman said, noting that local government loses $50,000 annually in property tax revenue on the estate due to its status. “Let’s get this property back on the tax rolls so the people of Nassau County and Glen Cove don’t have to finance thugs and dictators and people who invade innocent countries.”
Protests broke out in cities around the world over the weekend following the biggest attack on a European nation since World War II when Russian troops entered Ukraine under pretenses widely viewed as dubious — such as Russian President Vladimir Putin claiming the invasion was necessary to oppose the supposed rise of neo-Nazis under Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, a Jewish descendant of Holocaust survivors.
At the local rallies, protesters sang the Ukrainian national anthem — “Glory and Freedom of Ukraine has not yet Perished” — waved the blue and yellow flag of Ukraine, and held signs calling for an end to the conflict.
“Russians are the only ones who can stop this,” Ukrainian immigrant Vitaliy Zyulkovskyy said at the Riverhead rally. “But it’s not easy to convince them.”
On Monday, the U.S. mission to the United Nations described the Russian diplomats as “intelligence operatives” who had been “engaging in espionage activities that are adverse to our national security.”
“This action has been in development for several months,” said U.S. mission spokesperson Olivia Dalton.
Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told reporters the diplomats had been asked to leave by March 7. He said Russia would respond to the move “because it’s diplomatic practice.”
Nebenzia then raised the issue at the start of a U.N. Security Council meeting on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine, describing the U.S. move as “hostile” and a violation of its commitments as host of the U.N. headquarters in New York.
U.S. Deputy U.N. Ambassador Richard Mills responded: “Those diplomats that have been asked to leave the United States were engaged in activities that were not in accordance with their responsibilities and obligations as diplomats.
It was not the first time such action was taken locally. In 2016, then-President Barack Obama ordered a Russian-owned Brookville mansion described as a “recreational compound” to be closed, resulting in the 35 Russian diplomats being expelled, because of Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
The rallies and expulsion of operatives were the latest in a series of actions taken against Russia in response to the invasion. The United States and other nations imposed sanctions on Russia’s central bank and other sources of wealth, dealing a crushing blow to the country’s economy and further punishing Moscow. Companies have also increasingly distanced themselves from Russia as a result.
Meanwhile, support for Ukraine is pouring in, including on Long Island, where local church leaders report an overwhelming amount of donations for supplies such as warm clothing to be shipped overseas.