Ukrainian born South Tahoe man part of local Russia invasion protest

Leo Bokarius (center) was one of a handful of protestors on Monday to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Bill Rozak/Tahoe Daily Tribune

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — If given the opportunity, Leo Bokarius would strangle Russian President Vladimir Putin with his own hands.

The 77-year-old Ukrainian born South Lake Tahoe resident can’t stress enough the hatred he has for the “crazy Russian dictator” who had his country invade Ukraine about one week ago.

“I’m not just angry, my hatred is incredible,” said Bokarius, who speaks with a strong Ukrainian accent. “I don’t know how many generations it will take for Ukrainians to get over the hatred.”

Bokarius was part of a planned protest on Monday at the intersection of U.S. Highway 50 and California State Route 89 in South Lake Tahoe.

The protests, organized by local business owner Jana Menard, will be happening from 11 a.m. to noon everyday, she said.

A group of about a half dozen on Monday waved Ukraine flags and held signs that read “Russia out of Ukraine” and “Support Ukraine: Save Democracy in the World.”

Bokarius said he got very emotional with hundreds of cars honking and showing support for their cause.

“Everyone was supportive,” Bokarius said. “The honking and waving, they greeted and supported us. Some cars were carrying Ukraine flags.”

“He was practically in tears when I showed up (for the protest),” Menard said.

Bokarius said he woke up Tuesday morning and saw that Russia started bombing places he played as a kid in Kharkiv, the second largest city in Ukraine.

“It’s my native city, I spent the first quarter century of my life there in the best city in the world,” Bokarius said. “I was born a Kharkivite and I will die as a Kharkivite.

“I am in contact with some old schoolmates and I was telling them we’ve never had such a bad situation in our lives,” Bokarius continued. “We used to be one people, there was no difference. But after the Russians captured Crimea (in 2014), people in my city started hating them.”

Part-time South Lake Tahoe resident Peter Redko, a first generation American born Ukrainian was also part of the protest Monday and said he will again stand with them on Friday and the weekend when he returns from the Bay Area.

Redko said his sister has been living in the Ukraine capital city of Kyiv since 1999. He said she recently fled fearing for her life as Russian missiles blast the city.

“It’s a terrible situation,” Redko said. “I have other friends who live there and unfortunately they’ve had to leave their homes and lives.

“As an American of Ukraine ancestry, it’s very upsetting that the world has turned a blind eye for many years,” Redko added. “Putin doesn’t care about his own country. We’ve seen videos where their own people are arrested after protesting. He’s launching missiles into kindergartens, it’s just horrific. He sees Democracy flourishing and it’s very dangerous to him as a dictator. That type of person has no place on our planet.”

Redko said the protest was well received on Monday and he thinks the protests will continue to gain momentum thanks to Menard’s efforts.

Menard said she was surprised not to see any protests during the first few days Russia began its invasion of Ukraine.

Menard said she has an undergraduate degree in Russian civilization and culture and spent a couple of months in the capital of Moscow studying.

“When I saw nothing, I feel like it’s a tragic situation that needs to be recognized,” said Menard, who owns the Fragrance Vault in Heavenly Village and uses profits for the store and to run a dog rescue. “The least we can do is stand up for them. We’re hoping this isn’t the start of a nuclear war, but it definitely feels like we are back in Cold War politics.”

Bill Rozak is the Editor of the Tahoe Daily Tribune, a sister publicaiton of the Sierra Sun. He can be reached at

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