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Ukrainian Americans In Chicago Feel ‘Helpless’ For Family, Country As Threat Looms Of Russian Invasion

A City Council committee approved a resolution affirming the city's support for "the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine." Kyiv, Ukraine's capital, is one of Chicago's sister cities.

The central dome of St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral against the Chicago skyline on Sept. 24, 2021
Quinn Myers/Block Club Chicago
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UKRAINIAN VILLAGE — Aldermen are pushing for a resolution that would show Chicago supports Ukraine’s independence as it faces a potential Russian invasion.

Russia has amassed troops along its border with Ukraine, with various governments — including the Biden administration — warning Russia appeared ready to invade. Russia’s Defense Ministry announced Tuesday some troops will be sent home, but officials have warned that does not mean the tension is easing, according to The New York Times.

In response to the tension, Chicago’s Committee on Health and Human Relations approved a resolution Monday that affirms the city’s support for “the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.” The resolution, introduced by Mayor Lori Lightfoot and cosponsored by Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st), notes Chicago’s unique role as a home for thousands of people with Ukrainian ancestry and as a center of Ukrainian culture and history.

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

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

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

The resolution will go in front of the full City Council later this month for a final vote.

Chicago’s ordinance might not move the diplomatic needle along the Ukrainian border, but the gesture matters, said Lydia Tkaczuk, president of the Ukrainian National Museum, 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 that there is some support and that means a lot,” she said.

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

Tkaczuk said Ukrainian Americans around the Chicago area have deep concerns about the possible invasion.

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

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

Kourbatov’s son was supposed to travel to Ukraine this month on business and to visit family. His trip was canceled as tensions ramped up.

Kourbatov has been in contact with her family in Ukraine, and on Friday reached out to her second cousin in Kyiv when she heard the invasion could begin imminently.

“I said, ‘What are you hearing? What are you doing?’ And she wrote right back to me that, ‘We’re hoping for the best, but getting ready for the worst. This is not easy,'” Kourbatov 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 began Sunday and lasts through Tuesday.

St. Nicholas priest Serhiy Kovalchuk said clergy have led special prayers at multiple daily services and kept church doors open throughout the day for the community to join.

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

Kovalchuk said when considering 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 from my friends, they call, we speak and they said, ‘OK, we are ready, we are ready to stop the enemy if they will start invasion.’ But we ask, Lord, please, help us to keep the peace in our land.”

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