Ukrainian-Americans in Chicago feel ‘helpless’ for family and country as threat of Russian invasion looms

UKRAINIAN VILLAGE — Aldermen are pushing for a resolution that would show Chicago supports Ukrainian independence as it faces a possible Russian invasion.

Russia has been amassing troops along its border with Ukraine, with various governments – including the Biden administration – warning that Russia appears ready to invade. The Russian Defense Ministry announced on Tuesday that soldiers would be sent home, but officials warned that this does not mean that the tension is easing, according to the New York Times.

In response to the tension, Chicago’s health and human relations committee on Monday approved a resolution that affirms the city’s support for “the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.” The resolution, presented by Mayor Lori Lightfoot and co-sponsored by Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st), notes Chicago’s unique role as a home for thousands of people of Ukrainian ancestry and as a center of Ukrainian culture and history.

Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, is also one of Chicago’s “sister cities”.

“This resolution is not only about those currently living in Ukraine. It’s about showing our own communities that we are united with them,” said Nubia Willman, director of the city’s Office of New Americans. “Chicago is proud to be home to a vibrant and strong Ukrainian community.

“Some may ask, ‘Why this administration? Why is the city taking an official position? And the reality is that we are a global community and we have seen, time and time again, how unrest in faraway places affects us all.

The resolution will be presented to the full city council later this month for a final vote.

The Chicago order might not move the diplomatic needle along the Ukrainian border, but the gesture matters, said Lydia Tkaczuk, president of the National Museum of Ukraine, 2249 W. Superior St., in Ukrainian Village.

“A resolution really doesn’t do much, but at least it shows that the city council is interested and there is some support and that means a lot,” she said.

Credit: Quinn Myers/Block Club Chicago
Scaffolding on the west side of St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral, 835 N. Oakley Blvd on September 24, 2021

Tkaczuk said Ukrainian Americans in the Chicago area were deeply concerned about a possible invasion.

One of them is Orysia Kurbatov, the museum’s administrator, who has family in Kiev and eastern Ukraine along the Russian border.

“It’s like if a family member is sick and they’re going through this, you feel like you could be there to support them and say you’re praying for them, but otherwise it’s a bit like a feeling of helplessness,” Kurbatov said. .

Kurbatov’s son was due to travel to Ukraine this month for business and to visit his family. His trip was canceled as tensions mounted.

Kurbatov has been in touch with her family in Ukraine and contacted her first cousin in Kyiv on Friday when she heard the invasion could begin imminently.

“I said, ‘What do you hear? What are you doing?’ And she answered me: “We hope for the best, but we are preparing for the worst”. It’s not easy,” Kurbatov said.

At St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church, 835 N. Oakley Blvd., the parish is undergoing three days of prayers for peace in Ukraine. The prayer program started on Sunday and lasts until Tuesday.

St Nicholas Priest Serhiy Kovalchuk said clergy led special prayers at several daily services and kept church doors open all day for the community to join.

“…We know that God directs everything, and we hope that even if we are sinners, we are people who like to live in freedom, so that we have our independent country, the possibility of being ourselves”, said Kovalchuk.

Kovalchuk said that given Ukraine’s long history with Russia, the latest threat of war is “nothing new”.

“In Ukraine, people are ready for all scenarios,” Kovalchuk said. “I heard about my friends, they call, we talk and they say, ‘OK, we’re ready, we’re ready to stop the enemy if they start the invasion.’ But we ask, Lord, please help us to keep peace in our country.

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