Ukrainians in US fear for loved ones back home amid Russian invasion


(NEW YORK) — For many Ukrainians living in the United States, the early hours of Thursday morning were spent reaching out to family members and watching news developments as Russia crossed the border into Ukraine and began the first attacks on the country.

Oksana Sukhina, a Ukranian immigrant who came to the U.S. two years ago, told ABC News she learned the news of the invasion through a neighborhood watch group chat from back home.

“I saw messages that someone was asking, ‘Oh, what’s that booming?’ and someone responding, ‘Well, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin started the military operation,"” Sukhina told ABC News.

She couldn’t fall asleep that night.

Sukhina, who is a member of the non-profit U.S.-Ukraine Foundation, said that most of her family is back in Ukraine, and though she fears for the safety of her loved ones, she trusts in the Ukrainian army and in NATO forces.

“We hope that this insanity stops. It’s a civilizational attack,” Sukhina told ABC News. “We’re reading some disturbing messages about Russian troops being over on the ground.”

She said her son, who is in the U.S., is even seeking out ways to get back to Ukraine to help.

Alex Ponomarenko, an immigrant from the former Soviet Union region that is now Ukraine, told ABC News that as soon as he heard reports of the invasion, he began reaching out to loved ones.

Because of past aggression from Russia, including the annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014, many Ukrainians say they had the eerie feeling that something would soon erupt.

“No one was expecting this to happen, but it was always on the table,” Ponomarenko told ABC News in an interview. “My fear is the loss of life.”

Tamara Olexy, executive director of the nonprofit Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, also told ABC News that the invasion isn’t necessarily a surprise, but she still feels shaken by the attacks.

“It was a complete shock that in the 21st century, you can watch a war unfolding right before your eyes,” Olexy said.

Her family in Western Ukraine is safe, she said.

“We’re urging our governments to put in the harshest sanctions possible against Putin, and the Russian regime, and doing whatever we can to get the real truth out about what’s going on in Ukraine,” Olexy added.

Many said they hope Ukraine’s past of resilience and victory will pull the country through.

“Ukrainians are fighting back,” Olexy said. “Ukrainians aren’t going to give up the land easily. This is going to be a very long-drawn-out war … Ukrainians have fought long and hard to gain their independence — or regain their independence, I should say — 30 years ago, and they’re not going to give it up easily.”

Sukhina added, “[Ukraine] has prevailed so far, we will prevail further on.”

Many Ukrainian descendants, immigrants and refugees said they are channeling their initial feelings of pain into action. They’re set on figuring out how best to help their loved ones back home.

The goal is to not only make sure they’re safe now but also to financially and resourcefully support their continued safety. They’re calling on people from around the world, non-Ukrainians and Ukrainians alike, to assist in making sure those in need have the resources necessary.

“We’re ready to assist anyone as much as possible,” Ponomarenko said. “It’s a humanitarian issue. We should be ready to help.”

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