AMSTERDAM — The imminent warnings of Russia’s attack on Ukraine could not prepare members of the local community for the reality as they worry about the safety of friends and relatives in their home country.
“It’s surreal. I have no other words,” Anastasia Kostyk said Thursday. “Everyone knew it was going to happen, but I’m still shocked.”
After spending Wednesday night helping her family at St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church in Amsterdam prepare pierogi and golumpki for a fundraiser sale, Anastasia Kotsyk said news of the attacks against their native country broke shortly after they arrived home.
The Kotyk family stayed up through the night checking on the safety of friends and relatives still in Ukraine. An older family friend living near the capital city of Kyiv had recounted waking up to sounds of bombs going off around 4 a.m. followed by sirens. The woman didn’t know what to do.
“The sound of her voice really broke my heart,” Anastasia Kostyk said. “This is really, really close to home … My brother just moved from there.”
Marian Kostyk, her father and the priest at St. Nicholas, left no doubts about his feelings around the “big aggression” against his homeland when he referred to Russian President Vladimir Putin as a “terrorist.”
“They want to destroy everything in Ukraine,” Marian Kotsyk said. “I’m a priest, but I tell the truth. I can’t believe he comes to our independent country. We’ve been independent since 1991. He would like it to be Soviet Union. That’s prison. I lived there.”
Marian Kostyk moved to the United States from Ukraine when his daughter was six in 1994 and has been a priest at the Amsterdam church since 1997. All are welcome at St. Nicholas, but many of the roughly 30 to 40 members of the church immigrated from or are descendants of Ukraine.
The recent tensions in Ukraine as Russian troops amassed along the board led Marian Kotsyk to hold a daily mass at the church over the last two weeks. Now that attacks are underway, he is calling for prayers for Ukraine and set up a collection box to support the Ukrainian Army during the pierogi and golumpki sale that went on as scheduled Thursday.
Nataliya Salada dropped into the church to help out while trying to get her mind off of the situation in Ukraine after she too stayed up all night calling and messaging family and friends back home.
“For now my family is safe,” Salada said.
The scope of the attack involving airstrikes and shelling around the country has left doubt about where and for how long safety can be found, Salada admitted. She doesn’t yet know if relatives who are focused now on ensuring the safety of their children may join the Ukrainian Army to take up the fight against Russia in the coming days and weeks.
People are trying not to panic, according to Salada, who said that’s what Russian forces want. Ukrainians are largely stocking up on supplies of food, gas and medicine while awaiting instructions from officials about what to do and where to go, she said.
Salada worries that attacks on the infrastructure there could cut power across Ukraine leaving people in the cold or that cyber warfare could disable cell phone communications in an attempt by Russia to cut the “lifelines” of the country.
Yet, the 34-year-old who moved to the United States from Ukraine in 2015 has often thought about returning home and remains confident that option will be open to her again one day despite the conflict.
“I know I am going to be able to go back,” Salada said. “I don’t have a thought in my mind that I’m not going back. Right now it’s dangerous, but I know and hope that it’s going to get better.”
Although she is a United States citizen after immigrating from Ukraine with her parents 70 years ago, Mary Sribniak Conrad said she still feels a deep connection to her first country and was emotional over the Russian attack while helping out at the church.
“I cry every time I start talking about it,” Sribniak Conrad said. “I wish they would leave. They have their own country.”
The sanctions leveled against Russia by President Joe Biden and the overall response of the United States, Canada and European nations received praise from Sribniak Conrad and Salada for attempting to deter the aggression without escalating tensions with the nuclear superpower.
Still, Sribniak Conrad said the world must not let Ukraine fall to Russia the same way Crimea did following the invasion in 2014 or Putin will be emboldened to attack other European nations.
“He’s not going to stop,” Sribniak Conrad said. “He’s a madman.”
While the tight-knit Ukrainian population in Amsterdam leaned on each other Thursday, Salada said the broader community has been supportive. Colleagues from Whispering Pines Preschool where she is a teacher were reaching out throughout the day to check on her and see if there was anything they could do to help.
“We have to stay strong together,” Salada said.
Although she’s shared facts and traditions from her culture with students in the past, Salada has no plans to discuss the current political situation with her 4-year-old students when school resumes after winter break.
For now, the members of St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church will continue anxiously watching the news, checking on loved ones and praying for their home nation.
“We will be victorious,” Marian Kostyk said.
Reach Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.