‘I just don’t want to live’: Ukrainians in Rochester share heartbreaking messages from family back home

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WEBSTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Rochester area Ukrainians are keeping an anxious watch on Ukraine as Russia’s invasion of the country continues.

Dozens of them convened for a grim meeting Thursday night at the Ukrainian Cultural Center in Webster.

They say heartbreaking messages have sometimes been supplanted by frightening silence.

As the fighting has raged, Maryana Zakharchisian’s cousins in Ukraine have been sending what communiqués they can to their loved ones in America.

"They are all just kind of in fear,” she exclaimed. “Don’t know what’s going to happen. Everyone’s kind of just sheltering in place and it’s just very scary."

Polina Kolomoiets’s family fled from their village only 12 miles from the Russian border into the city of Kharkiv.

"My mom said that it was really scary. The sky was white of the rockets,” she said. "They just started to fire in the middle of the night. Everyone was scared. Houses were trembling."

Local Ukrainians turned to each other to ask for support, from their neighbors and their country, including tougher sanctions against Russia.

"They need as much help, support, as they can right now,” Zakharchishian explained. “Medical supplies, money, for the army."

The Ukrainians are quick to emphasize they’re not asking for American military forces to go to war with Russia.

"No one needs to go and do like real military invasion in order to protect Ukraine,” Kolomoiets said. “But the best way is to hit them economically."

Tanya Dashkevich did manage to reach her 83-year-old aunt who has been unable to get to shelter.

“Her answer was ‘I just don’t want to live.’ That got me speechless," Dashkevich said. "That got me just… it just breaks my heart.”

These Ukrainians who have made America home, say it’s time for the United States to do absolutely everything possible to stop Vladimir Putin.

“We lived in the Soviet Union. So we know how dangerous it is,” Dashkevich said. “We had to deal with Russia for so many years, for decades, for centuries, so we know where it’s leading to.”

“People don’t have anything," Kolomoiets said. “They just pray. This is the only thing they have at the moment. Pray for the peace. And pray to stay alive.”

Members of the community will have a chance to make their case to the U.S. government in person this weekend when the cultural center will host a private meeting with Rep. Joe Morelle (D, NY-25).