Ukrainians in Rochester weigh in as homeland’s tensions with Russia rise

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — The Rochester area’s Ukrainian community is looking with tired dread on their homeland’s brewing tensions with Russia.

Again Friday, the Biden Administration sounded the alarm that a Russian invasion of Ukraine could come any time, and Charles Molineaux reports local Ukrainians say the situation looks grim and all too familiar.

“Why can’t the Russians basically just leave us alone?” sighed Eugene Sydor, a onetime Ukrainian child refugee who became a career U.S. Army Officer. “We’re a peaceful nation. We don’t attack anybody. Just leave us alone.”

On Friday night at the Ukrainian Cultural Center in Webster, there were music, fish fry, pierogis and dread over the prospect of a Russian invasion, especially for those with family back in Ukraine.

"They are part of the reserves,” explained Taras Yayko, whose relatives were in western Ukraine. “Their bag is packed, if they get called, they are going to war. It’s that kind of mood.”

As Ukrainians train and drill to try to repel the Russians, Roman Kshyshak says his brother could get called up. And then there are his parents, who are coming to the U.S. this weekend.

"They are afraid that once they get here, they won’t be able to go back because there’s going to be an active war,” he exclaimed.

The Biden administration now says an invasion of Ukraine could come any time. The president is threatening tough economic consequences, but the feeling in this community is largely one of skepticism and tired resignation.

“Ukraine has been a pawn of the centuries,” Sydor said. “It’ll be a tragedy. It’ll be a tragedy for Europe, and the United States, and every other country in the world who looks to the United States as a democratic example.”

“Everyone says ‘The world is ending, the war is going to begin,’” added Yayko. “But, Ukrainians themselves, they live like this for so many years that it’s business as usual…. For eight years.”

Ukrainians point to the last invasion, when Russian troops stormed into Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, and never left.
At the time, Joe Biden was vice president.

“A guy who was part of the head of the government in 2014,” Yayko said, “when Russia took, actually, a huge chunk of Ukrainian territory, nobody said anything. Nobody did anything to Russia.”

President Biden is scheduled to talk with Russian President Vladimir Putin at 11 a.m. on Saturday.

If the fighting can’t be prevented, Sydor said he doesn’t hold out much hope for Ukraine’s army

“They’re going to put up a valiant fight,” he predicted. “But, in the final analysis, if the Russians go full bore, they’re going to lose. The Ukrainians are going to lose again.”

In the past, Putin has emphasized the large number of ethnic Russians in Ukraine as people who want to be aligned with Russia but local Ukrainians say Russian aggression has actually united Russian Ukrainians with their countrymen against Russia.