‘I will be without country, without home’; Ukrainians in Portland react to Russian invasion
As Russia invaded Ukraine Wednesday, members of the Ukrainian diaspora in Portland watched with fear and sadness. At least 200 Ukrainians and their supporters showed up Thursday afternoon in downtown Portland to protest the Russian invasion. More than 20,000 Oregonians and nearly 60,000 Washingtonians report Ukrainian ancestry, according to the most recent census figures. One of the many Portlanders of Ukrainian descent is artist Tatyana Ostapenko. Ostapenko said she was in shock watching the level and scale of the Russian invasion of her home country. “I think the level of numbness and dissociation that I feel is a protective mechanism,” Ostapenko added. In an effort to do something, Ostapenko said she planned to donate 100% of the proceeds of sales of her art to support Ukrainians, though she was still looking for the correct place to send money since scams have started to pop up. Ostapenko still has family in the country and she said they were trying to stay calm and stock up on groceries. “There’s nobody that I’ve heard from in the city has come into direct harm yet,” she said, “but they all woke up at 5 a. Volodymyr Yavorskyi, the 27-year-old pastor of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Sellwood, is from western Ukraine.
Yavorskyi oversees a congregation of 160 parishioners, and he said that every single one had been touched by the invasion, whether because they still had friends and family in the country or because it’s their homeland. He came to the United States eight years ago as a student, leaving his entire family in Ukraine. Yavorskyi has been in communication with his family and friends and the news he has received is bleak. “They are in western Ukraine,” he said, “but now it doesn’t matter where you are. Yavorskyi said his 9-year-old nephew had a panic attack, adding, “He’s afraid of the bombs the Russians were dropping. Vadim Mozyrsky has been lucky -- his family members who still live in Ukraine were able to evacuate temporarily to the United States and Canada. Mozyrsky, 49, lives in Goose Hollow now but was born in Kyiv. Mozyrsky said it’s hard to watch what is happening in Ukraine now. “It’s a tragedy,” he said, “and it’s hard to understand be there’s so many things that unite those two cultures. In Portland, he said, Ukrainian and Russian communities are closely connected.
“We celebrate here together on the same occasions and care deeply about one another,” Mozyrsky said. “My friends are Russians as well as Ukrainians and we both suffer together because this is hurting everybody,” he added. It’s the governments, he said, that “have a difficult time finding solutions that serve everybody. For Yelena Kolova, 36, who lives in North Portland, watching the invasion of the country where she was born has been “surreal. “I think I am experiencing survivor’s guilt,” Kolova said Thursday. Kolova, a program manager at a tech company, immigrated to the United States from Odesa at age 7, in 1993. She grew up in New York and has lived in Portland for seven and a half years. “My mom said, ‘I thought we were escaping poverty and religious persecution and I didn’t know we were also escaping a war,’” Kolova said. She said she felt “gutted” watching from a distance as the place she lived during some of her formative years becomes a warzone and simultaneously like she doesn’t have the right to feel so upset. On the other hand, she knows she does have that right.
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