Bohdan Andrukh was on his way to meet friends for dinner at a San Francisco restaurant last Wednesday when he received a phone call from his mother in Lviv.
She was crying; the sound of a nearby explosion had woken her. The war has begun, she told Andrukh, who was far from home and unable to help her find safety.
He did his best to assure her that everything would be alright, but in his heart knew that tragedy was fast approaching.
“I knew I was lying and I am way too helpless to make such promises but I had to,” Andrukh, 26, told CNN. “She is mom, she should never cry unless it’s tears of joy.”
Like Andrukh, Ukrainian Americans across the United States are closely monitoring Russia’s violent assault on Ukraine.
They fear for the lives of family and friends, worry the destruction will render their beloved country unrecognizable, and curse Russian President Vladimir Putin for instigating the conflict. Some also feel betrayed by Western governments, who they say abandoned Ukraine in its time of need.
Here’s how they feel and what they want the world to know:
‘The world is not going to do anything’
Mariya Soroka has not been able to stop thinking about her last visit to Ukraine.
On the last day of her trip, she spent the evening at a friend’s “fairytale” home on the outskirts of Lviv, where she was surrounded by loved ones, delicious food, and stunning nature.
She recalls dancing in the garden and stargazing on the roof, consumed with joy and love for her homeland, culture and people.
Soroka, 33, was born in Yavoriv, but immigrated to the United States at the age of 15. Despite the many years she’s lived away from Ukraine, she says no day goes by without her longing to return.
“What I love most about Ukraine is the people. And the food,” Soroka told CNN. “I think a lot about Kyiv. It is so beautiful, home to amazing shops and concerts and streets and buildings full of history. Now I wonder when or if I’ll ever see those places again.”
Soroka learned of Russia’s invasion following a dinner with friends at her apartment in Jersey City, New Jersey. Her heart immediately shattered into pieces, she said.
“I asked my friends to pray. We held hands and we just prayed and prayed,” Soroka said through tears. “An hour later we saw the news and I just kept trying to reach my dad [in Kyiv] but he wouldn’t pick up. I stayed up all night, trying to hear his voice.”
Eventually, she reached her father, who was safe but had decided against evacuating in order to let families with children leave first.
Soroka fears Ukraine’s allies have abandoned it, but remains hopeful for a victory.
“My biggest fear is that the world is not going to do anything, that the war is going to continue and it’s going to destroy my country and my people,” she said. “But the spirit of the fight in Ukrainians is very strong. I don’t think the Russians can fight as hard as we can, because goodness and justice is not on their side.”
She also warns that if Ukraine falls, the impact could be felt across the world.
“You can’t just say Ukraine is not my problem,” Soroka said. “Right now Ukraine is fighting to keep the world order. And if the world leaders won’t get involved in a serious way, a world war will be on their conscious.”
‘Your concerns aren’t enough’
Yuriy Babak is fed up with expressions of concern and promises of unity. He wants to see quick and decisive action to defend Ukraine.
“Even though it’s everywhere on the news, there’s still a group of people who think it’s not their problem because it’s not touching them,” Babak, 37, told CNN.
“But Russia will not stop at Ukraine. If the rest of the world doesn’t show strong will to support us against Russian aggression, tomorrow it will be the rest of the world and they will only understand that when it’s too late.”
Babak was born and raised in Ivano-Frankivsk, a city in western Ukraine, before immigrating to the US. Today, he lives in Alpharetta, Georgia, where he owns a business and serves as the vice president of Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, Georgia branch.
“Even though Georgia is home right now, Ukraine is my homeland. I can’t let go of my memories, my childhood, my first school, my first relationship, my first sports, my first days at college there,” Babak said. “I wish I could relive them, but now I have to imagine that those places in my memories could be destroyed. It makes my heart squeeze, it’s a really heartbreaking situation.”