At American-Ukrainian gatherings in recent weeks, the conversations always turn serious. Even at the usually jovial pre-Lenten dinner dance in Bridgeville, hosted last weekend by the Ukrainian community of western Pennsylvania, faces carried signs of worry for their homeland. At the more than 30 Ukrainian churches in the region, many held vigils praying for peace in Ukraine.
A priest who attended the dinner dance led one of the prayers and then attendees sang the Ukrainian national anthem, which calls upon the singer to lay down soul and body for cherished freedom.
“People come together and support each other by talking and by sharing thoughts and concerns,” Stephan Haluszczak, president of the Ukrainian Cultural and Humanitarian Institute and author of “Ukrainians in Western Pennsylvania,” told The Epoch Times.
The Pittsburg area has the fourth largest Ukrainian settlement in the United States. Ukrainians have also settled in areas surrounding Detroit, Cleveland, Chicago, and New York. They came to Pennsylvania in the late 1800s and early 1900s prior to World War I to work at coal mines, steel mills, and railroads. Then, in the 1920s and the 1990s, waves of Ukrainians arrived in the United States escaping conflicts and the related economic hardships.
Now, they watch and worry as Russian President Vladimir Putin escalates aggression toward Ukraine.
“In the Ukrainian community, it’s very much on our minds all the time,” Haluszczak said. “The concern is that Ukraine will be invaded, that there will be death and destruction, that Ukraine will be dismembered.”
Ukrainians don’t want anymore wars, he says. Weapons and materials provided by the United States and other countries have made Ukraine better prepared, but they still pray for a peaceful, diplomatic outcome.
“We are not asking for U.S. troops to go there,” Haluszczak said. “America has been the policeman of the world and has lost so many young lives, all over, trying to do good.” He said he would like to see the U.S. help with stiff sanctions, such as shutting Russia off from the international banking community and preventing sales of semiconductors to Russia.
Those with family in Ukraine, like Rev. Steve Repa, a priest at St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Sharon, Pennsylvania, are hearing a variety of reactions to Russia’s aggression.
“People in Pittsburg are hearing from families in western Ukraine and are being told that their relatives have purchased graves and completed funeral arrangements for themselves, just in case they die in battle,” Repa told The Epoch Times. Others are trying to maintain normal daily living activities, and a few say maybe it would not be so bad to be ruled by Russia.
“l feel like I went to the doctor he told me I had cancer,” Repa said. “You prepare for the worst, but you pray for something better.”
Any acts of aggression to Ukraine can be felt in the United States, Repa said, because we are not an independent nation anymore. The United States is economically connected to many international resources.
In 1994, Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons in the Budapest Memorandum, with assurances from the United States and other countries that it would be secure.
“We promised to protect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. In return, Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons,” Bob McConnell, co-founder of the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation, told The Epoch Times. “What is any other country that has a nuclear interest going to think about assurances they get from the United States if we don’t live up to what we said in the Budapest Memorandum?”
Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation is a think tank supporting the development of democracy, a free market economy, and human rights in Ukraine, as well as the strategic partnership between the United States and Ukraine, its website says.
“There’s a whole number of reasons Americans should care about this. We care about the security systems that were set up to create and protect peace after World War II. That’s a concern because if there is war in Europe, we have interests that will be drag us into it,” McConnell said.
He noted that while Russia’s military movements are getting a lot of media attention, Russia has already been aggressive in other ways, including cyber attacks that debilitate Ukraine’s computer systems for hours at a time, bomb scares in schools and other public buildings, and propaganda-disinformation such as releasing photos of tanks being loaded on trains and telling news outlets the tanks were leaving Ukraine when they were actually headed into Ukraine, and claiming that Russia has a historic right to Ukraine, McConnell said.
With no air force, Ukraine is at a disadvantage if Russian uses its air power, but McConnell said the people will fight hard to preserve their freedom.
“Ukraine has been independent for 30 years. If you look at its history over the last century and a half, or two centuries, that’s the longest period of independence in Ukraine. They’re not going to give it up.”