For Ukrainian Americans in Philadelphia, military victories over Russia generate hope and joy

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Ukraine’s astonishing string of military victories brought joy to a local Ukrainian American community that badly needed some good news.

For 10 days, that was all people can talk about.

But that doesn’t mean anyone has stopped working, stopped pushing to deliver supplies, donations and attention to a Ukrainian war effort that is suddenly gaining momentum.

Almost everyone here, some 70,000 in one of the country’s largest Ukrainian enclaves, has family members abroad, many of whom are fighting in the armed forces. And in war, even success gets people killed. On the contrary, Ukraine’s dramatic advances against a larger and presumably unbeatable Russian military are driving people here to work harder and achieve more.

“Their hearts. …Something has changed. Something has changed inside,” said Iryna Mazur, honorary consul of Ukraine in Philadelphia. “I don’t have a proper word to describe it, but people are waiting for victory.”

Mazur is among those who have worked almost nonstop since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, playing ping-pong between Philadelphia, New York and Washington for events, rallies and ceremonies. Now she and others are moving, not with a greater purpose, but perhaps with a greater sense of possibility.

Last week, the New York Times asked, “Could Ukraine really win its war against Russia?”

Mary Kalyna thinks so.

“I was crying with joy,” said the Ukrainian-American activist. “Everyone I know has been in high spirits. I feel much more optimistic than I have in a long time, as if my whole physical being has changed.

Remember, she said, that experts said the war would be over in three days, a quick and decisive Russian victory over a smaller, weaker neighbor. Instead, Ukraine fought to a draw – and today they are moving forward.

Now, when Kalyna’s clock radio rings in the morning, she can’t wait to hear the news, not dread it. This propels her into an already busy program of activism.

This weekend, she was traveling to speak at a high school reunion in Auburn, NY, where classmates hosted the event to raise money for Ukraine. She helps lead a weekly Ukraine vigil outside Germantown Unity Society. And she recently accepted the position of Ukrainian cultural liaison for a pop-up art exhibition in Philadelphia, the Stand With Ukraine Listening Loom project, where textile artists use weaving to welcome Ukrainians displaced by war.

Others work too.

A Ukrainian Food and Culture Festival is taking place Saturday and Sunday in Jenkintown, a Ukrainian Dance Party will raise funds in Philadelphia on Friday, and the Shady Brook Farm Fall Festival in Yardley will donate proceeds to Ukrainian aid on September 24.

“It’s a joy for me as a Ukrainian American, as a volunteer, to know that we’re fighting back and finally making progress,” said Roman Vengrenyuk, a financial analyst from Philadelphia who helps run Revived. Soldiers Ukraine, which brings seriously injured soldiers to the United States for treatment.

But people here know that Ukrainian troops will suffer as they fight to take back their country. A soldier who lost a leg and a hand is due to arrive in Philadelphia soon for treatment.

Ukrainian forces have retaken nearly 3,400 square miles of land amid Russian collapses, mounting a smashing counterattack in a war that appeared to have settled into a stalemate.

Ukrainian authorities said the army took control of the town of Vovchansk in the Kharkiv region, two miles from the Russian border, which was seized on the first day of the war. In the former Russian stronghold of Izium, Ukrainian officials said they discovered a mass grave containing more than 400 bodies.

This news reverberated in the Philadelphia area, which is home to 15,245 Ukrainian immigrants and 54,324 people of Ukrainian ancestry.

For them, life has changed since the beginning of the war. They are on the phone with family members in Ukraine late at night and early in the morning. Newscasts became the background soundtrack, and weekend parties and social events were replaced by fundraisers in Ukraine.

“When we get together it’s to talk about the war,” said Olha Dishchuk of Huntingdon Valley. “We talk about what needs to be done.

Every morning, she calls her parents in the Khmelnytskyi region in western Ukraine. She needs to know that they’ve survived another day before she can start hers, as a nurse in King of Prussia.

When she returns home from work, a second day begins, a shift of answering calls, organizing events, picking up newly arrived refugees, and dropping off supplies and donations.

Dishchuk and her husband, Oleksandr, expect to welcome the injured soldier due to arrive here, just as they helped Ukrainian special forces officer Leonid Ovdiiuk when he came to Philadelphia in the spring.

“Everyone is so stressed. So emotional. So nervous,” Dishchuk said.

For a month, she said, she had the best sleep, because her older sister had come from Ukraine. Dishchuk could go to bed knowing his sister was safe. But Natalia Dishchuk recently returned to the Chernivtsi region in southwestern Ukraine. And with her gone, the broken sleep of the younger sister returned.

Meanwhile, Ukrainians fleeing the war continue to arrive in the region. Philadelphia officials estimate that at least 10,000 Ukrainians will be here by the end of the year.

Liliia Kravtsova is one of them.

She was a lawyer in Odessa, which was bombed on the first day of the war, and now lives with an aunt, uncle and cousin in Huntingdon Valley. Every day she sends text messages to her parents and brother in northern Ukraine.

“I hope that very soon we can regain all our territory and resume normal life,” she said.

Meanwhile, the cold and rainy Ukrainian winter is approaching. Troops in the muddy trenches will need all types of warming and protective supplies, people here say. And Ukrainian civilians must prepare for a frozen life in places where water and heating systems are destroyed or damaged.

“Much of the civilian population lives in ruins,” said Mazur, the consul. “Everyone who is here, we all have someone who is there – on the front line, in the cities. But we are not under the bombardments, under the bombardments. We have to play a supporting role.


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