Ukrainian Community in Cleveland Standing With Loved Ones in Under-Attack Homeland

By Michael Sakal
Michael Sakal
Michael Sakal
Michael Sakal is a former reporter for The Epoch Times.
February 28, 2022Updated: March 1, 2022

The sizeable tight-knit Ukrainian community and clergy in Cleveland, Ohio, have turned out in force with messages and prayers for loved ones back in their homeland.

They also have messages for Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, whose military began bombing and invading Ukraine, its southwestern neighbor on Feb. 24.

So far more than 300 Ukrainians have been reportedly killed in the Russian attacks, with thousands more wounded.

In addition to their prayers, the Ukrainian community is requesting President Joe Biden and the world help arm the country to keep the Russians from conquering it.

“Ukraine will do what it has to, to defend itself,” the Rev. John Nakonachny of St. Vladimir Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in the west Cleveland suburb of Parma told the Epoch Times.

Parma is home to the Ukrainian Village and one of the largest Ukrainian communities in the United States.

Donations for humanitarian aid are being accepted at St. Andrew Memorial Ukrainian Orthodox Church in South Bound Brook, New Jersey.

Epoch Times Photo
Nadya Reidy of Lakewood, Ohio, shows her support for Ukraine during a rally at Willard Park in downtown Cleveland on Feb. 26. Reidy’s family is active in northeast Ohio’s Ukrainian community and her grandparents emigrated to the United States from there. (Michael Sakal/The Epoch Times)

As Putin’s military continues to battle for major cities, thousands of Americans of Ukrainian descent have been attending prayer services and protests over the weekend of Feb. 25 to Feb. 27.

Ukraine is not a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and member countries—such as the United States—are unlikely to step in militarily and help unless they are attacked.

However, the West and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky are not shy about what they wish for the Russian army or Putin.

At St. Vladimir, about 200 people attended a prayer service on Feb. 25.

The message they heard was forthright and with delivered resolve from Rev. John Nakonachny and the Very Rev. Michael Hontaruk.

“Vladimir Putin is not only fighting Ukraine; he is fighting democracy,”  Nakonachny told the parishioners.

“He is fighting freedom in the world, and what we stand for. Ukraine is a democratic country.

“In 30 years, we have had six elections and six presidents. Ukraine will defend itself. Give the government, military, and the people, the strength to defend themselves.

Epoch Times Photo
The Rev. John Nakonachny of St. Vladimir Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Parma, Ohio on Feb. 26, 2022. (Michael Sakal/the Epoch Times)

“We have a psychopath in one man, and that is Putin,” Nakonachny added. “We hope that the rest of the world help provide them the arms needed to defend them against this sick man.”

Nakonachny, who described the situation as the toughest time for him to be a priest, went on to say, “We’re called here to love and to hate. If you love good, you will hate evil. Vladimir Putin is a sick man to do what he is doing to innocent people, and we hate that.”

On Feb. 28, Rev. Hontaruk’s 55-year-old brother-in-law, Oleh Bendasick, was due to join the Ukrainian army to held defend his homeland.

Hontaruk told The Epoch Times he left the small village of Kimnata in western Ukraine to emigrate to the United States when Ukraine was a free country. He still has two sisters there and although people in western Ukraine believe they are safe, they still are afraid and stressed, Hontaruk said.

More sanctions against Russia are being considered by the United States and other world leaders.

Epoch Times Photo
The Rev. Michael Hontaruk of St. Vladimir Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Parma, Ohio, on Feb. 25. Here Hontaruk is pictured in the cathedral with his son, Peter, 4. (Michael Sakal/The Epoch Times)

“Sanctions are not enough,” Hontaruk told The Epoch Times.

“Sanctions need actions. If nothing is done to stop Putin, there are going to be larger problems in the world. He used to be in the KGB. Putin needs to be taught the Ten Commandments, and to obey them.”

On Feb. 26 in downtown Cleveland, about 1,000 people of all ages converged at Willard Park next to City Hall for the We Stand for Ukraine rally and later at Public Square for the Cleveland for Ukraine.

They voiced support for their country with hopes NATO would close the skies to avoid the situation from getting worse.

Temperatures were in the teens and low 20s with the wind chill coming in off Lake Erie, but that didn’t stop people from turning out to wave flags and chant on the steps of City Hall.

A caravan of dozens of semi-trailers honked their horns as they passed the protestors along Lakeside Avenue.

Epoch Times Photo
Shouting in support of their country and heritage: About 1,000 people turned out at rallies in downtown Cleveland on Feb. 26 to show support for Ukraine. (Michael Sakal/The Epoch Times)

As the crowd gathered on the steps of City Hall, they chanted, “Slava Ukraini! Heroyam Slava! (“Glory to Ukraine!, Glory to Heroes!”)

“Slavs Natsiyi!” (Glory to the nation!)

They also shouted a call to fight for Ukraine’s independence, one used since 1918:

“Ukaina Ponad Ooseh!” (“Ukraine above all!”)

Epoch Times Photo
Denis Motovilov holds up his son, Tais, 4, during a rally in front of Cleveland City Hall on Feb. 26 to show support for Ukraine. He and his wife, Elena, emigrated to the United States from Moscow and do not support the government in their native country. (Michael Sakal/The Epoch Times)

Denis and Elena Motovilov were among those at the rally at Willard Park in front of City Hall. A young Russian couple, Denis, who works as a chemist in Solon, came from Moscow to the United States in 2016. His wife, Elena, came to the United States from Moscow in 2018. They have a 4-year-old son, Tais, who was clutching onto the sign while sitting atop his father’s shoulders. The sign said, “Stop War.”

“We do not like the Russian president or the government, so we came here,” Denis Motovilov said. “What’s going on in Ukraine is a problem for the world. We are ashamed.”

Larissa Reidy and her brother, Alex Pohuliaj, both of Lorain, Ohio, attended the prayer service at St. Vladimir and the two events in downtown Cleveland.

“It’s devastating,” Reidy told The Epoch Times of the situation. “To think that Ukraine was a free country and now, being invaded by Russia again is heartbreaking. I’ve been to Paris and Ukraine, and Ukraine is the most beautiful country I’ve ever seen. We can’t let this happen.”

Epoch Times Photo
The families of Richard and Larissa Reidy, and Alex Pohuliaj, all of Lorain, Ohio, are active in northeast Ohio’s Ukrainian community. They were among many families who turned out at rallies in Cleveland on Feb. 26 to show support for Ukraine. (Michael Sakal/The Epoch Times)

Larissa Reidy and her husband Richard have three daughters—Natasha, Nadya, and Larissa—and all attended Ukrainian School for 12 years in Cleveland at St. Vladimir. They learned to speak, read, and write the language, and about the culture of the country where their grandparents emigrated from.

Reidy and Pohuliaj’s father, Konstantin, was from Donetsk and a slave dentist under Germany during World War II, and then, Russia. Konstantin left the country in 1952.

Reidy said her father wasn’t at home that day during World War II when the Communists took the rest of his family. She said all her father’s family was killed, but during a visit to his country in 1995, he still looked to see if he could find any of them, Natasha Daina told The Epoch Times.

“When we went to Ukraine, he was amazed that he was there during a time when the country was free,” Daina of Avon, Ohio, said. “He had pride in being in the country, but there was some sadness in him, too. He never knew if his five siblings were displaced or killed.”

Daina has been to Ukraine three times—in 1993, 1995, and 1996, the first time with her Hungarian paternal grandmother Betty Reidy Connors and her father’s family. Connors was from the Carpathian region.

In 1996, Daina went to Ukraine with her maternal grandmother, Tamara Pohuliaj. All three trips she described as a dream come true.

Of the current situation in Ukraine, Daina said, “We are just begging for people and the world to open their eyes to what is going on. This is not only an attack on Ukraine, but on life as we know it, and our freedoms. If we let them put an end to freedom over there, it can be snuffed out here, too.”

One of Alex Pohuliaj’s daughters, Tania Skyba, lives in Schaumburg, Illinois, with her family.

She held a protest on the town square there and attended a prayer service at St. Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Bloomingdale, Illinois, on Feb. 24.

Her three children. Nastia, 9, Dmytro, 7, and Zoriana, 4, are members of the Ukrainian Scouts there, a cultural group for the younger generation that teaches them to speak, read, and write in Ukrainian.

Natasha and Eric Daina’s two children, Orest, 7, and Nina, 4, also are in the Ukrainian Scouts.

Epoch Times Photo
Dmytro Skyba (L), 7, and his sister, Zoriana (R), 4, each light a candle in support of Ukraine during a prayer service at St. Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Bloomingdale, Ill. on Feb. 24. The Skybas are of Ukrainian descent, and are concerned about people they know living in the country. (Courtesy Tania Pohuliaj-Skyba)

Alex Pohuliaj told The Epoch Times that if someone doesn’t stop Putin, he’ll just keep going for other countries such as the Baltic States, and then Romania and Hungary.

“This is sad,” Pohuliaj said. “This could’ve been avoided eight years ago. Putin isn’t going to stop unless someone stops him. History has a way of repeating itself, and we should tell our neighbors about what is happening, and why it is happening—so it doesn’t keep happening.”

“One thing about the Ukrainian people,” Pohuliaj said. “They won’t give up. They’ll keep fighting.”

An estimated 5,000 women and children are leaving western Ukraine to go into Hungary each day and gas is becoming hard to come by.

Some people at the rallies suggested that Biden open up the Keystone Pipeline to free up oil for the United States and Europe. Many fear that gas prices will go up higher than they already are if the situation gets worse in Ukraine.

On Feb. 27, Ohio governor Mike DeWine and his wife, Fran, attended church at St. Andrew Ukrainian Catholic Church to show their support and that Ohio stands with Ukraine as well.

DeWine also declared Feb. 27 as a Day of Prayer for Ukraine in Ohio.

The Ukraine flag also will fly at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus and the Governor’s residence in Bexley to further show support for those under Russian attack.

Many people who were leaving the prayer service at St. Vladimir on Feb. 26 were crying and got emotional when they spoke.

Oksana and Volodynr Logvynyuk, who emigrated to the United States in 2001 for more opportunities, have relatives in Ukraine.

The Logvynyuks have three children, Christina, 19, Mykola, 16, and Anna 6.

He works as a CNC operator. She is the secretary at St. Vladimir’s Cultural Center and teaches Ukrainian folk dancing to the younger children.

Oksana Logvynyuk cried when speaking about the situation.

“It’s horrible there,” she said. “Russia is killing civilians. We need help. In Ukraine, they are ready to fight and defend their land.”

Epoch Times Photo
A woman holds up her sign during a rally in downtown Cleveland on Feb. 26, 2022, to show support for Ukraine. About 1,000 people turned out for a rally on Cleveland’s Public Square after the earlier one on the steps of Cleveland City Hall. (Michael Sakal/The Epoch Times)