Ukrainian-American community of Riverhead prays for peace as tensions in Ukraine escalate

The Ukrainian-American community of Riverhead prays for peace in Ukraine, as the country and its allies prepare for a possible invasion by neighboring superpower Russia.

Although the Russian government denies any intention to invade Ukraine, last year the Russian military began to masse along Ukraine’s borders, establishing a presence currently estimated at over 130,000 troops and prompting warnings of an imminent invasion, which Russia denies.

Tensions in Ukraine are palpable in the local Ukrainian-American community, whose members gather to pray for peace at St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church in Riverhead. Father Bohdan Hedz, pastor of the church, leads his parishioners in prayer, spoken in Ukrainian and English. The church is one of the few Ukrainian churches on Long Island, and prayer knocks home for Ukrainian immigrants who worship there as the threat of invasion looms over their homeland.

“We want to live in peace. This is the bottom line. Hedz said. “We want everyone to get along, for everyone to move in a common good direction for everyone on the planet.”

This is not the first time that Russia has invaded Ukrainian territory. In 2014, Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula – a southern province along the Black Sea that contained a predominantly ethnic Russian population. This invasion came in the wake of civil unrest that left the country without leadership. Since then, Ukrainians have resisted Russian-backed separatists in the eastern Donbass territory, where Russian military troops, vehicles and equipment are now positioned along the border.

Alexandra Gachynska said the last time she visited her family in her native Ukraine, she could see and hear troops training and moving armaments throughout the day and night. She said her family in Ukraine was fed up with the conflict.

“They’re so tired of it, it’s been eight years already,” she said. “We’ll see what comes next.”

The threat of war is growing in real time, with recent news including Russia saying on Tuesday it had begun a partial troop withdrawal from the border and Russian President Vladimir Putin signaling that the country would be willing to defuse the conflict in exchange for respect. of certain requests. According to the New York Times, one of Putin’s main demands is that NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), the military alliance made up mainly of Western European countries and the United States, cancel its expansion in Eastern Europe and ensure that Ukraine never joins.

NATO said on Wednesday it had seen no signs of Russian troop withdrawals.

Although they would prefer a peaceful solution to end the conflict, the inevitability of the invasion is not lost on parishioners of Ukrainian descent and Hedz. They said that Ukrainians are ready to fight and defend their country against invasion.

“The Ukrainians are strong. And they know they have to stay strong and stop the Russians,” said Roman Bodola, a Ukrainian-born parishioner.

Even civilians in Ukraine are trained by military forces and private groups to defend their cities if Russia invades. Hedz said her parents, who are in their late 60s, rejected her offer to come to the United States. If Russia invades, her father will join the local militia to defend their hometown, while her mother will cook for the soldiers, they told her. “They’re ready to fight,” Hedz said.

The church is doing all it can across the Atlantic to help those who are suffering in Ukraine. He receives donations from the community to send to people displaced by the conflict and to soldiers in Ukraine. They accept hygiene products, over-the-counter flu medications, and clothing of all sizes, especially those designed for the cold. They pay the shipping costs by raising funds through garage sales organized by Bodola.

“We sift through and separate what we think is useful for the soldiers on the front lines and what is useful for the displaced people. Believe it or not, there are still people living in train carriages because they lost their homes to shelling or shelling,” Hedz said.

“People have been very generous both within the community and outside the community and we are very grateful for that,” he added.

President Joe Biden said during a speech on Tuesday afternoon that the United States was prepared to impose sanctions on Russia in the event of an invasion. He said the United States would not send military personnel to fight in Ukraine, but had provided the Ukrainian army to help defend itself. NATO has positioned its defenses on Ukraine’s western border in Poland.

Hedz said Russia can stage a successful invasion because it has the manpower. “Are they going to hold this territory? That’s another story,” he added.

He drew a comparison between the David vs. Goliath type war between Russia and Ukraine and the American War of Independence. “Now it’s 1776 for us and we are standing up to a tyrant. And with the help of the people in government, the allied people, the allied nations who are helping Ukraine, we hope we can avoid the bloodshed of the two sides,” he said.

“What we need is Western help, not only in the defense sector, but also in the industrial sector to help us with reforms and the creation of new businesses,” Eugene Tverdyy, a parishioner of Ukrainian descent and local leader of the Ukrainian Congress of America Committee, said through an interpreter.

Hedz believes Russia is trying to create its own version of the fallen Soviet Union, the Eurasian superpower that collapsed in 1991 and led to the nation states of Eastern Europe in the 21st century.

“Russia is still working under this impression that Ukraine is somehow under its umbrella and it has the right to tell the people what to do. Well, they have to forget about this narrative,” he said. “We can be partners in politics, we can be partners in business, when there is mutual respect.”

Hedz said Ukraine should be given the option of joining NATO, a prospect outlined in its current constitution, in opposition to Russia’s conditions to stop the invasion. “I support what the European Union and Western leaders are saying in response to these absurd demands,” he said. “How can you tell a sovereign country what to do? I mean, it’s up to their people.

American-born parishioners, some of whom have no direct family ties to Ukraine, care about their Ukrainian friends in the congregation.

Carolyn Smith, born in the United States and a life member of the church, said she could not imagine what it felt like for the people of Ukraine to live with the threat of war in their home country. “Living in this country, we are so lucky, so blessed. I can’t even imagine what these people go through on a daily basis. It’s terrible,” she said.

Hedz said the Ukrainian community of Riverhead is planning a rally at City Hall to support those suffering in Ukraine and to educate the community. The rally is not yet scheduled, although he said the group has the full support of the local government of Riverhead. “People are with us. And it’s very comforting to know that people are supporting us,” he said.

“We basically have to make our voices heard, in a modest way, obviously. We are not going to change geopolitics. Mr. Putin will not listen to the people of Riverhead,” he said. “But it is our duty. It is our duty to these people.

Hedz said it was important for everyone to be informed about the war, especially since an extensive propaganda campaign by Russia aims to cloud the issue as to who the aggressors in the conflict are.

“We have to talk to people. We need to make our voices heard. We need the general public to realize that this is a serious situation,” said Hedz, who drew a comparison between the German invasion of Europe in World War II and Putin’s moves in Eastern Europe. East.

“It’s easy for us who live in the United States to say, ‘Well, that’s Europe’s problem.’ Well, we’ve heard that before, remember? 1939? Hedz said. “Well, it turned out that in the end it was a bit [the United States’] problem too.

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