Great-grandson of a Ukrainian refugee, Pritzker denounces Russian invasion, warns of potential cyberattacks on Illinois
The state has close military ties of its own with Ukraine, with an Illinois Army National Guard task force providing training to troops in the country last year. A group of Illinois National Guard advisors returned from Poland earlier this month after working with a brigade including members of the Ukrainian military.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker noted his Ukrainian roots on Thursday while condemning Russia’s invasion of the eastern European nation, but he said everyone, regardless of origin, should oppose Vladimir Putin’s use of force.
“Whether you come from Ukraine, your family has descendants from Ukraine, or you’re just from anywhere else in the world but you’ve come to the United States — every American stands with the nation of Ukraine today, or should,” Pritzker said after a campaign event in Little Village.
“The nation of Ukraine has been attacked by an autocrat, by a dangerous leader who should be pushed back upon. And I know that we all hope for peace to reign across the continent of Europe, and our hope is that these battles will end very soon, and that will bring peace to the continent.”
The Democratic governor — whose great-grandfather fled the persecution of Jews in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv in 1881 and later settled in Chicago — said that while he hopes military intervention can be avoided, the United States needs to “do everything we can to stop Russian aggression.”
Some of the Ukrainian military members forced into action by that aggression early Thursday were trained by service men and women from Illinois.
About 165 Illinois Army National Guard soldiers returned from Ukraine last April after an 11-month deployment during which the so-called “Task Force Illini” unit provided training, advising and mentoring to Ukrainian military leaders and troops.
The training envoy — part of an ongoing federal program to bolster Ukrainian defense following Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea — was stationed in Yavoriv, near the country’s western border with Poland, and not far from Lviv, where Russian air strikes have been reported.
Illinois’ military ties to the region date back even further. Since 1993, the state has exchanged service members with the Polish military, initially to assist with that country’s transition into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and later to join them in deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan
A group of Illinois National Guard advisors returned from Poland earlier this month after working with a brigade including members of the Ukrainian military, according to a guard spokesperson.
“I’m always worried about drawing U.S. lives and U.S. troops into any warzone across the world,” Pritzker said. “My hope is that we don’t need to deploy our troops, whether they’re National Guardsmen from Illinois or anywhere else in the United States. But of course, we also need to make sure that we’re protecting other nations across Europe, or our allies.”
The governor also suggested Illinois could be a target itself of Russian aggression in the form of cyberattacks on state data networks. Russian hackers went after the Illinois Board of Elections in 2016, and such attacks are expected to escalate nationwide with growing worldwide tensions.
“I think everybody in the United States should be concerned about cyber attacks coming from Russia in particular, and Russian allies,” he said. “We are taking precautions and we have for some number of weeks now leading up to this, hoping that it would not be necessary. … We’re going to continue to do everything we can to protect our systems, not only state government systems but also private companies, and working with them to make sure that they protect our vital infrastructure in the state.”
Pritzker’s Republican rivals have found a rare patch of common ground with him on Ukraine, with candidates in the GOP primary field for governor summarily denouncing the Russian invasion.
“Russia’s actions are unconscionable and we should place extremely strong sanctions on Russia,” state Sen. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, said in a statement. “Ukraine has made clear it can fight for itself but we should provide the resources they need to defend their sovereignty.”
Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin said he stands “in solidarity with the people of Ukraine and support[s] efforts by the United States and allies to deter further Russian aggression.”
Bull Valley entrepreneur Gary Rabine called Putin “an authoritarian, murderous thug who will stop at nothing to deprive the Ukrainian people of their freedoms.”
Petersburg venture capitalist Jesse Sullivan said “the unprovoked aggression we are witnessing by Putin and Russia threatens peace and democracy, and will have far-reaching consequences.”