AMSTERDAM — In the days since Russian forces invaded Ukraine, Nataliya Romanishin has done her best to stay in touch with family in her homeland, but communication has proven difficult as the conflict wears on.
Romanishin, who came to the United States in 2004, has family spread throughout Ukraine, including its capital city of Kyiv, where military forces have so far managed to fend off the Russian advance.
Citizens there remain under a strict round-the-clock curfew and many, including members of Romanishin’s family, have sought refuge in underground subway tunnels as fighting just outside the city continues.
“My heart is broken,” she said. “People are running out of food and supplies and can’t get out of there.”
Romanishin was one of around 40 who gathered at St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church along Pulaski Street for a solemn mass Sunday morning, where parishioners wiped tears as they listened as the Rev. Marian Kostyk called for peace in a sermon delivered mostly in Ukrainian.
“The events of the last days have shaken us to the core,” he said. “Our peace-loving homeland has been forced to defend itself against evil forces that seek to destroy her.”
Several were spotted embracing children too young to understand the conflict taking place.
But for the many in attendance, recent events feel like a repeat of history and has brought back memories of a time when Ukraine was ruled by the Soviet Union — a period marked by oppression and bloodshed.
“I cannot even imagine what will happen to Ukraine if Putin wins. I cannot even think about it,” Romanishin said. “The country will be destroyed. I lived when the Soviet Union was there. I know what that means.”
Ukraine gained its independence in 1991 following the collapse of the Soviet Union, history Russian President Vladimir Putin rejected last week in a speech justifying his invasion, which has so far displaced more than 300,000 Ukrainians and killed scores more.
But for Ihor Salda, who grew up under Soviet rule, the history can never be forgotten.
“This runs through the veins of Ukrainians,” he said, speaking through an interpreter.
Salada said “the world is a different place” and called Putin a “madman” determined to erase history and destroy Ukraine — a move, he said, that will be met with fierce resistance.
He pointed to the unified sanctions imposed against Russian institutions and oligarchs and the hundreds of resistance fighters working alongside the military to repel Russian forces.
“The nation is taking up arms,” Salad said.
Several in attendance said sanctions levied against Russia by the U.S. and its NATO allies are a strong, unified response, but more needs to be done to end the conflict.
Kostyk said NATO must work to close the airspace over Ukraine to prevent further attacks and shutdown Russian oil and gas pipelines, key to the country’s economy.
He said several of his family members and fled have fled to nearby Poland, but is hopeful the situation will be temporary.
“I’m hoping things will be normal in two weeks,” Kostyk said.
Xrystay Szyjka, an Amsterdam resident with family in Ukraine, is not so sure.
She said its time for an international force to be assembled to fight alongside Ukrainians, and that Russia’s actions threaten democracy everywhere.
“This will not end with a Putin surrender and Ukrainians are fighting for democracy for everyone,” Szyjka said.
President Joseph Biden has repeatedly said the U.S. military will not be sent to fight since Ukraine is not a NATO member. Instead, the president has sent troops that border Russia in the hopes of deterring Russia, and the U.S. and European nations have provided military financial aid.
On Sunday, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy agreed to peace talks that will take place at the border Ukraine shares with Belarus, just hours after Putin ordered his nuclear forces to be on high alert.
Szyjka, the daughter of World War II refugees, said she understands the horror of war, but said Ukraine has proven itself to be an important ally that must be preserved.
“War is not romantic,” she said. “In war, parent’s grieve for children and children grieve for parents.”
Hours after the church service ended, hundreds from across the Capital Region gathered in front of the state Capitol in Albany to call for an end to the conflict.
Many waved Ukrainian flags and held signs that read “#StandWithUkraine.”
Joining the crowd were a number of elected officials, including U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, who condemned Putin and said Congress is working on a new aid package to support Ukraine.
The U.S., Tonko said, must move past partisan politics and focus its efforts on stopping Putin’s advances.
“This unprovoked attack on Ukraine should not, and will not be tolerated,” he said. “An offense against Ukraine is an offense against all freedom loving people of this world.”
Meanwhile, Romanishin said her family in Ukraine are on edge, but their resolve remains strong.
She said her nephew has enlisted in the military and has sent his wife and son to live wit family in Poland.
Her 83-year-old father, who lives in western Ukraine near the Polish border, is also willing to fight, she said.
“He told me, ‘I will give my blood, I just need a weapon,’” Romanishin said, fighting back tears.
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: 518-410-5117 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.