Members of the Ukrainian diaspora across the United States have been responding with grief, rage and solidarity with their compatriots as Russian president Vladimir Putin ordered an invasion of their country.
Ukrainian-Americans from New York City to Sacramento have been expressing their growing anxiousness towards the escalating conflict, singing prayers, launching fundraisers and organizing solidarity rallies.
Currently, there are more than 1.1 million members of the Ukrainian-American diaspora. Ukrainians have been immigrating to the United States since the late 19th century when many arrived in 1877 to work in the Pennsylvania mines. However, the largest immigration wave came after the second world war where thousands of displaced Ukrainians sought refuge in large American cities including New York, Philadelphia, Detroit and Chicago.
Many more fled during the cold war and also its aftermath, immigrating to the United States and Canada. In 2019, Ukrainians were one of the top groups resettled as refugees in the United States under the Donald Trump administration.
In the Ukrainian American community in Detroit, one of the country’s largest and most active Ukrainian diasporas, people have been organizing prayer services and speaking with elected officials to urge them to speak up against Russian aggression.
According to Mykola Murskyj, chair of the Ukrainian-American Crisis Response Committee of Michigan, there are about a dozen Ukrainian churches in southeastern Michigan, with many more Ukrainian Saturday schools, credit unions, grade schools and cultural centers in metro Detroit.
These organizations have already been hosting rallies and launching fundraisers, said Murskyj, whose grandparents emigrated from Ukraine which was then part of the Soviet Union.
“There’s a lot of anxiety and there’s a lot of determination,” she told the Detroit Free Press.
Olena Danylyuk, vice chair of the Ukrainian-American Crisis Response Committee said she watched in horror as Russia invaded Ukraine on early Thursday morning.
“It is hard to watch … We are extremely disturbed, saddened, and angered by the senseless violence,” she said. Danylyuk, a Ukrainian immigrant herself, told the Detroit newspaper that one of her sisters and her children have fled Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital and are hiding in a small town.
In New York City, members of the Ukrainian diaspora said their friends and families in Ukraine are prepared to fight. Oleksandr Matsuka, a retired United Nations diplomat whose stepson recently enlisted in Ukraine’s territorial defense forces and whose wife’s brother was preparing to leave retirement and return to the army, said, “Everyone does whatever he can.”
“Ukrainians are not panicking. They are prepared to fight,” he said to members of the Self-Reliance Association of Ukrainian Americans, a seminar group nestled in the city’s East Village.
New York’s East Village is home to the city’s largest Ukrainian diaspora and was once known as Little Ukraine, as over 60,000 Ukrainian immigrants lived in the community at one point.
Andrij Dobriansky, co-chair of the United Ukrainian-American Organizations of New York has been inundated with text messages from Ukrainian friends who are in shock. “I have so many just single texts in my phone from people who are like, ‘I have no words’ and that’s it. This is not something anybody imagined could happen – to roll back the independence of a country,” Dobriansky said.
In Sacramento, California, which is home to approximately 100,000 Slavic immigrants – most of whom came from Ukraine, many Ukrainian-Americans are finding solace through prayers.
Yuri Shimko, who arrived in the US when he was six years old, is a part of a local Ukrainian church and has been praying for peace since the Russian invasion. “It’s sad to hear that it’s happening to our own people. As a church, we’re praying for them. We’re thinking about them,” he told Sacramento’s ABC10.
Erik Latkovskii, the lead pastor secretary at Sacramento’s Spring of Life church, has opened up the church as a space for support and solidarity for Ukrainian Americans. “I’m far away. And it’s hard for me to do something right now, but I will pray to God,” Latkovskii said.
Other members of the diaspora in Sacramento are fraught with confusion and fear. According to Ruslan Gurzhiy, editor-in-chief of Slavic Sacramento, “People are confused. People are fighting in comments with each other, arguing with each other, a lot of anger, a lot of fear, a lot of blaming each other.”
As Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy asks for donations to the Ukrainian military and the country’s billionaires return to Ukraine to pledge their support, numerous Ukrainian-Americans have also been launching fundraisers stateside to assist with relief efforts.
The Revived Soldiers Ukraine campaign, based in Orlando, Florida has been raising funds for Ukrainian soldiers injured on the frontlines. “I want our Ukrainian army to know that we, the Ukrainian diaspora of the United States, stand with them shoulder to shoulder,” said Irina Discipio, the campaign’s organizer.
In Belmont, Massachusetts, Katya Malakhova is organizing the Sunflower of Peace fundraiser in which tactical backpacks filled with medical supplies are provided to Ukrainian marines and special forces units.
Nova Ukraine, a non-profit organization based in Palo Alto, California has been identifying areas in Ukraine that are most in need of humanitarian efforts and has been raising funds to provide relief including gasoline, candles, diapers and food.
Currently, the organization is raising money to buy dry food for children at the Donetsk Oblast orphanage in Donetsk. “We need your support as never before,” the group posted on their Facebook page.
Across the country, numerous solidarity rallies have also been planned by Ukrainian diaspora communities, with many set to take place in major cities including Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Philadelphia and Washington DC in the coming days.
Nataliia Onyskiv, head of the Georgia branch of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, told the Atlanta Journal Constitution that she has been touched by all the support coming in from beyond the Ukrainian community in the city.
“From my personal experience, it means a lot. If you know a Ukrainian, make sure to tell them your heart is with them,” she said.