PARMA, Ohio — Parma is home to the highest concentration of Ukrainian-Americans in Ohio, many of whom were up late Wednesday night anxiously watching the news coverage of Russia’s invasion, worried about friends and family still living in the besieged European nation.
News 5 photographer Dave Colabine stopped by St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in Parma on Thursday and spoke to several women who were brought to tears over concern for what is happening in their homeland.
“I stayed up late last night, even though I had to be here early in the morning. I watched a lot the news,” said Linda Lishchuk Hupert, whose parents are from Ukraine. “I can’t believe what [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is doing in Ukraine. He’s saying one thing, that he’s only taking over one territory, and he started bombing in Kyiv and in all different parts of Ukraine.”
Lishchuk Hupert was planning on visiting Ukraine in April to study pisanki, the Ukrainian art form of decorated wooden Easter eggs, but that trip has now been pushed back indefinitely after already being delayed for two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“All my cousins are there. I don’t have any family here in the United States,” she said. While many of her cousins are in more remote parts of the country that are not currently under direct threat of invading Russian forces, she is worried about one cousin who lives in the port city Odessa.
“It’s scary. What scares me is the fact that Ukraine is on its own right now because Putin is threatening that anybody that goes into help them, he’s going to do more, and that could be the start of World War 3. And where do we go from there?” Lishchuk Hupert said. “Who can help Ukraine right now?”
Nadia Palz, another parishioner at St. Josaphat, was visibly upset over what may be happening to her family in Ukraine.
“My family – brothers, sisters, five over there. What can you do? You just pray, hope everyone alive, and that’s it,” she said, holding back tears. “You don’t like to accept that this stuff does really happen, but it does happen.”
“When you see all of that happening, my heart breaks. I cry. That’s all I can honestly say,” said Lesya Petryszyn, who makes pierogi at St. Josaphat with her friends weekly. “I was hoping that there would be a resolution, but there wasn’t. History yet to be written.”
Lishchuk Hupert can’t believe what she’s hearing from the Russian president.
“It’s just unbelievable what he’s trying to do,” Lishchuk Hupert said. “Putin is sitting there and saying Ukraine never existed? Moscow didn’t exist before Ukraine did...Putin just doesn’t know his history.”
Petryszyn agrees that Putin’s reason for the invasion isn’t about protecting separatists in parts of the country.
“Protect from what? Ukrainians are one of the most peaceful people,” she said. “Couple years ago, it was on the news about Tatars living in Crimea. They were not being persecuted by Ukrainians. But when Russians took over, Tatars were leaving, because Russians were persecuting them.”
She says once again, Putin is inventing a reason to invade Ukraine.
“Ukrainians are not persecuting the Russians, okay? So this baloney, or pretext, or whatever [Putin] feels he needs to say. And if somebody believes in that, which nobody does, I could use some other words for that, but, you know — it’s politics. He needs an excuse, so he’s using an excuse,” she said.
Lishchuk Hupert hopes that people take the time to learn more about her homeland.
“There’s so much beautiful culture in Ukraine,” Lishchuk Hupert said. “And people just don’t want to take the time to learn it. This is the time to learn about Ukraine. It’s a beautiful country. The people and their culture are wonderful.”
Lishchuk Hupert did not mince words about Americans, including former president Donald Trump, who support Putin and what she believes is an unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
“I see and hear comments, and it just upsets me. It upsets me what our former president said, that he supports Putin. Anybody that supports our former president after he said he supports Putin – you are not an American. How can you support somebody who is for someone who is overtaking a country that is independent, that has been independent since 1991, that wants to be independent, and is trying to join NATO?” she said. “You’re supporting someone who is so evil so as to come in and bomb a country of innocent people? I – I don’t know what to say anymore. Please, everyone, pray for Ukraine. Pray for our people."
The Parma Fire Department expressed its support for Ukrainians in the city:
The City of Parma has long been a welcoming place for folks of Ukrainian descent. From Ukrainian Village to the countless Ukrainian churches throughout the community you have made our city strong," the department said. "The Parma Fire Department stands with our Ukrainian residents as they lament the unprovoked attack on the homeland of their forefathers. We hope and pray for a swift and peaceful end to this aggression and for the safety of citizens throughout Ukraine.
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