UKRAINIAN VILLAGE — Members of Chicago’s Ukrainian American community are calling on U.S. officials to take more aggressive action against Russia in the wake of its ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
During a Friday meeting with Sen. Dick Durbin at the Ukrainian Cultural Center, 2247 W. Chicago Ave., local business and civic leaders pressed for tougher repercussions, and in some cases direct military action, from the United States and its allies against Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Durbin said he supports sending weapons and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, as well as extending rules to allow Ukrainians currently visiting the United States to stay here during the war.
“We have to put sanctions on Vladimir Putin the likes of which he’s never seen in his life,” Durbin said. “Russia has to understand there’s a price to be paid, not just in terms of the token resistance of the world but the real resistance that translates into an impact on the lifestyle of people living in Russia.”
But local leaders pushed back with a unified message: current sanctions from Western governments are not enough to save Ukraine.
“Sanctions alone are not going to save people. Sanctions are not enough. There has to be a way to provide realistic military help,” said Marta Farion, vice president of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America Illinois Division.
Farion said she would like to see the United States or its allies like Israel provide military resources and training to Ukrainians fighting Russia. She said she wishes President Joe Biden would be more forceful in his rhetoric surrounding the war.
“We understand it’s a political issue here in the United States. That’s why the president is constantly saying we’re not sending troops. But we would like the president to stop volunteering that statement all the time. When no one asks him, he goes ahead and says we’re not sending troops. Is that a message to Putin? ‘Go ahead, we’re not going to send troops.’ I mean, he is volunteering this statement over and over. Why?” Farion said.
Farion said her organization is planning a trip to Washington, D.C. to lobby members of Congress on the issue in the coming weeks.
Vitaliy Kutnyy is the president of the Selffeliance Federal Credit Union, 2332 W. Chicago Ave., in Ukrainian Village.
He said he appreciates Durbin’s support for Ukrainian independence, but more urgency is needed from the U.S. as Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, faces an imminent Russian takeover.
“As we speak today, people are dying,” Kutnyy said. “Our cities are being destroyed. And we need to act now. We obviously appreciate everything that the United States does for us, for our country, but we need to act. More sanctions are not enough. They’re not enough.”
Kutnyy said the United States needs to immediately cut Putin and other Russian leaders off from SWIFT, the international communications system that connects financial institutions around the world.
“We need more military equipment, we need more protective equipment, we need more humanitarian aid, we need more medical equipment,” Kutnyy said. “But the urgency of disconnecting Russia from SWIFT, that will disallow buying from Russia, gas and oil, and stop funding the war because basically, that’s what’s happening.”
Maria Dziuna, who drove from Naperville to attend Friday’s meeting, has three sisters and other family living in Ukraine.
She said talk of Ukraine joining NATO after the war, which Durbin voiced support for Friday, is meaningless right now as Russian troops move through the country.
“Talk about some future for Ukraine, it’s a myth, because Ukraine is going to be become Russian colony, because if they don’t help now, it’s going to fall and it’s not going to come back next year…they have no chance,” she said.
Dziuna also said she wants the United States to intervene militarily, especially with aircraft and other weapons Ukraine lacks.
“They say that we are going to lose war in Ukraine because of the sky. Because in sky we lost right from the beginning. So why not get some kind of good help, military help, from anywhere? We don’t ask them to fight, but give us that,” she said.
Attendees also said they were concerned for people fleeing the war. More than 50,000 refugees have fled the country in the past two days, according to a United Nations official.
Lilia Zaparaniuk, president of the American Ukrainian Youth Association, said her organization is especially worried about the future of orphans and other children living in Ukraine.
“There are specific orphanages in Ukraine, zero to 3 years old, there are organizations there that take these orphans in. But I’m thinking the orphans that are older than 3, where are they going to go? What are they going to do? Can we adopt these children?” she said.
Zaparaniuk said her group is now considering organizing relief efforts for Ukrainian orphans, and hopes the meeting with Durbin started the conversation about a “big question that has been left unanswered.”
Hundreds rallied Thursday in Ukrainian Village to condemn the Russian invasion. Another rally is planned for 1 p.m. Sunday outside Saints Volodymyr and Olha Ukrainian Catholic Church, 739 N. Oakley Blvd.
Subscribe to Block Club Chicago, an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.