SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) – As Russian troops move into a divided Ukraine following the overthrow of its government, Ukrainians in the Bay Area are organizing protests of the Russian invasion into the strategic Crimean Peninsula.

One Ukranian is going so far as to drive across America to help people in his native country.

Viktor Kee, a star juggler with Cirque du Soleil, just finished performing in the Bay Area. Now, he is driving from San Francisco to New York to gather signatures on a Ukrainian flag, and money to help the families of those killed in protests in Kiev.

“We don’t want to be part of Russia. We want to be independent and we want (our) freedom,” Kee said. “My people there want democracy.”

Kee is an American citizen who lives in Florida, but was born and raised in Ukraine, to a Russian father and Ukrainian mother.

He said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s occupation of Crimea and its largely ethnic Russian population reminds him too much of Adolf Hitler’s excuse for annexing Austria.

“I want Russia to get out of our way. This is my country and I’m a Ukrainian,” he said. “This is not 1938, when Hitler occupied Austria. German people were in Austria too. It’s absolutely (like) Ukraine and there are Ukrainian citizens.”

Kee and the Bay Area Ukrainian group hope to keep international pressure on Putin to withdraw.

Kee’s trip across the country will include stops in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New Orleans, and Washington, D.C., before his scheduled arrival in New York on March 14 or 15.

He hopes to display the flag of Ukraine, with signatures from Americans across the country, in Maidan Square in Kiev, as “a sign of American support for the Ukrainian movement to freedom and democracy.”

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