On Sunday, Feb. 27, hundreds of people gathered in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village to protest the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which began on Feb. 24. Among them was Oleksandr Severenchuk, 20, who came to the United States from Rivne, Ukraine, to attend college. When he heard about the Russian invasion, he immediately contacted his grandparents who still live there.
“There was an airstrike in my hometown a couple of days ago,” Severenchuk said. His grandparents are safe for now. “They’re hiding in their basement. They can’t drive to Poland because it’s a little risky,” he said. “But they have enough food. They’re safe. All is good.”
John Oharenko, 65, was also at the gathering. He was born and raised in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village, and has been unable to contact his family in the city of Kovel, located in western Ukraine, since the initial hours of the invasion. Kovel is near the border with Belarus, where much of the Russian invasion force has been stationed.
Ivana Grdan, 22, of Rockford, says Russian attacks on civilians are upending the lives of her grandparents and uncles who live in Ukraine.
“They’re scared to take their kids to school, so they have been kept home,” Grdan said. She worries for her family and other Ukrainians and thinks the conflict is not going to end any time soon. “It’s about living in the fear of what’s going to happen next.”
Oharenko is worried about more than just his relatives and his country. “Ukraine is a battle for Europe, for freedom all over the world,” he said. “Russians are indiscriminately bombing, not only civilian targets but ecological targets. There needs to be an immediate action by the Europeans, and by the whole world to stop the ecological disasters and genocide.”
Severenchuk is pleased by the outpouring of support he’s witnessed. “Seeing people march and try to help out Ukraine by donating money and spreading awareness, it feels nice,” he said. “It just shows that other people care and they understand that what Russia is doing is very wrong.”
Olivia, 20, a store clerk in Ukrainian Village whose parents are from Ukraine, agrees. “Ukrainians are very patriotic,” she said. “Seeing everyone getting together and trying to support us is great.”
Oharenko noted that some Russian citizens also have protested the war, at great risk to themselves, and called them “heroes.”
He applauds the sanctions against Russia and the aid provided to Ukrainians. “I believe we’re doing a great job on it, especially the last few days, but it was too slow to start,” Oharenko said. “This is a fight for democracy. As opposed to any individual, Putin represents evil and dictatorship. We need to be vigilant; peace has a price.”