Ukrainians in Chicago protest Russian invasion: ‘Pray For Peace. Pray for Ukraine’
“I don’t know what’s worse, being over there and being in danger or being here and knowing that we can’t do anything, really,” said Oleksiy Vynnytskyy, 28, an urgent care nurse from Wheeling.
Waving flags of blue and yellow, about 100 Ukrainians gathered on the Harlem Avenue overpass Thursday morning to protest the Russian invasion of their homeland.
They were met with nonstop honks of approval from motorists on the Kennedy Expressway below.
“This is an existential battle for democracy, not simply for Ukraine, but all the values we hold very dear here in the West,” said Pavlo Bandriwsky, vice president of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America Illinois Division. The organization is based at the Ukrainian Cultural Center on Chicago Avenue.
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“I was talking to my niece who’s in Ukraine this morning, they’re hearing bombs going off. They live near the city of Lviv in western Ukraine not far from an airport that was targeted,” said Bandriwsky, a retired financial services executive from the Northwest Side.
“She’s OK but she has young kids and they’re all very traumatized,” he said.
About 54,000 people of Ukrainian heritage live in the Chicago area, according to the Census Bureau. Bandriwsky said a good portion of them live in the city, but also in Palatine and towns along Cumberland Road from Park Ridge to Elmwood Park.
Oleksiy Vynnytskyy, 28, an urgent care nurse from Wheeling, attended the protest with his sister, Anastasiya, and his wife and two kids.
“I don’t know what’s worse, being over there and being in danger or being here and knowing that we can’t do anything, really,” he said.
“This is not a war between the Russian people and our people. ... This is a war between one crazy guy and his group and our country,” he said, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Leaders in his hometown in western Ukraine have asked anyone able and willing to carry a gun to join in defending the community, he said. His parents work in a medical facility and will be there to help any wounded, he said.
“We want to show that the people in our country are not alone, the whole world is with them,” said Anastasiya Vynnytskyy, 25, a medical student from Mundelein.
“In Ukraine right now the whole nation is treating each other like brothers and sisters, they’re trying not to panic, trying to keep their mind cold, because they realize this is war,” she said. “Like this is actually happening. I talk to my friends and it’s hard for them to believe this is happening. They’re like ‘We’re like in the 21st century and we’re entering war in Europe? It’s just like incredible to put in your mind.”
Valentin Balaban, 25, lives in Ukrainian Village, where he grew up, and said he’s worried about his 33-year-old sister who lives in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine.
“She told me she woke up to the vibration of their windows,” said Balaban, who works in sales. “It’s really hard to evacuate Kyiv right now. She’s actually stationed in a bunker right now with my nephew.”
Aleksey Graboviy, 30, an investment banker and attorney from Bucktown, said his mother’s cousin is a medic in Ukraine’s military.
“We talked to him last night and he was so calm. It was strange. He said it was because it hasn’t been a question of if there would be an invasion, it was a question of when, and he said, ‘Now we’ll do the best we can.”
“If my family had stayed in Ukraine I would have been drafted and gone willingly and I would be fighting right now, and it’s insane to think that there are so many like me that are doing this and are getting killed now by obviously a superior military force,” he said.
At a separate protest in Ukrainian Village Thursday afternoon, Koledov Serhiy, consul general of Ukraine in Chicago, told a crowd of about 200, “My American friends, today a new world ... we will defend our soil.”
U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley attended the gathering outside Saints Volodymyr & Olha Ukrainian Catholic Church and emphasized the importance of imposing “crippling sanctions” against Russia.
“We can’t imagine that Putin won’t respond here,” Quigley said, noting Russia could hit the United States with various cold war tactics or cyberattacks.
“The reason I’m bringing all this up is not to diminish the horrors that our Ukrainian friends are experiencing but to wake Americans up, that they must play a role. They need to understand the sacrifice that will be involved and that we need to give Ukraine all of the military assets they need for ultimate victory.”
Natalie Vivsyana, 23, is a ballroom dance instructor who lives in Schaumburg. Her twin sister and parents live near Lviv in western Ukraine.
“I feel like I am there right now. I’m texting them every hour to make sure they’re safe,” she said, noting they hadn’t seen any signs of war yet.
Vivsyana returned to Chicago on Sunday after visiting her family in Ukraine.
“Everyone is texting me ‘You’re so lucky you got out’ and I am, I guess, but I just don’t feel like that,” she said.
“We do not want war. We just want to live in a peaceful democratic country. But we will fight for our country and never give up,” she said.
Bandriwsky urged people to lend moral and financial support to Ukraine.
“Pray for peace. Pray for Ukraine,” Bandriwsky said.
“Ukraine wants to have a democratic, independent, sovereign nation,” he said. “We want to live like normal people. Ukrainians have been under Moscow subjugation before, they suffered under the Communist regime for decades. Ukrainians don’t want that life. They want to live like we do in the West. They want rule of law. They want the opportunity for economic growth and the chance to raise their children in a solid environment. And it’s our obligation to help them with that.”