COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – One year after Russia invaded Ukraine, hundreds of Ukrainian refugees and supporters gathered on the steps of the Ohio Statehouse.
It was a night of prayer, silent reflection, and community, with those gathered rejoicing that Ukraine still stands.
“The morning everyone woke up on Feb. 24, 2022, our worlds were turned upside down. The worst had happened, what we feared,” said Natalia Lebedin, President of the Ukrainian Cultural Association of Ohio.
On this day, marking one year since the war began, she looks to the future of what she wants to see in the end.
“Ukrainians safe and secure, in a country where they can live in freedom and democracy and human rights. Things that Ukraine deserves, as well as the entire world,” she said.
She also had a message for anyone who may be watching the war at an arm’s length.
“Please don’t be fooled by propaganda, misinformation and lies. This war is, there is no nuance here. It is not a conflict. It is an outright attack on a people, their culture, their identity, their freedom,” she said.
Viktor Moskalyuk, the associate pastor at Grace Evangelical Church, moved to America from Ukraine a little over 20 years ago. Moskalyuk knows firsthand the pain of the families and people the war has ripped apart.
“It is just surreal that something like this is happening in the 21 century. A lot of our congregation, a lot of our people in the church have family back in Ukraine. I have two sisters who are still back in Ukraine,” Moskalyuk said.
At his church, they take in refugees from Ukraine, working to help them land on their feet when they arrive in Ohio — halfway around the world, and far from their home.
The church receives about 20 people a week, and have seen more than 700 since one year ago. Moskalyuk laughed when asked what these refugees need.
“They pretty much need everything. They need to learn English. They need to get their documents in order. They need to get housing. They need to get jobs, and so forth. Everything you would need to survive,” he said.
Moskalyuk isn’t just helping them meet immediate needs, he’s looking to the future as well. Many refugees are only allowed to stay one or two years on their current paperwork until they have to return home.
“Some have lost everything. They lost their houses. We have families that barely escaped saving their lives. And this is every single day for us,” he said.
Moskalyuk he is asking state legislators to help these refugees find a permanent new home here in Ohio.
Tim Maloney was first introduced to Ukraine when he lived in Kyiv as a Peace Corps volunteer in 2016.
“I was so terrified at first that the world wasn’t going to care going to turn their backs on this country, and its people, and its culture,” Maloney said, remembering the day the war began.
He lived in Kyiv for several years, teaching and making friends, including a neighbor who fought against Russia. Maloney gifted the man a pack of American cigarettes. In return, the man gave him a Ukrainian flag with inscriptions from the rest of the soldiers he fought with against Russia in 2015.
Maloney now volunteers, assisting Ukrainian refugees find a home in America.