COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — While Iryna Petrowsky awaits updates on a potential military conflict between Russia and Ukraine from her home in Galena, her niece – from more than 5,000 miles away in Kyiv – has relocated her three children to the first floor of their home.
After U.S. leaders warned of a Russian military invasion of Ukraine that “could begin at any time,” Petrowsky, a Ukrainian native, said she feared for loved ones in her homeland.
“We are thinking, is that the day, is that when the bombs start falling in Ukraine?” Petrowsky, a member of the Ukrainian Cultural Association of Central Ohio, said.
Central Ohioans born and raised in Ukraine dread the escalation of Russian military presence in their homeland and urge Americans to recognize the global “snowball” effect that could result from an invasion.
Marianna Klochko, the president of the Ukrainian Cultural Association of Central Ohio, moved to the U.S. in 1998 for graduate school from Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine.
“The situation has been around for eight years,” Klochko, of Powell, Ohio, said. “It’s just the escalation of the situation is what got everybody talking about Ukraine right now.”
Klochko, a sociology professor who serves as an adviser to the Ukrainian Society student organization at Ohio State University, said it’s terrifying to think of her friends and relatives who are living there.
“It’s a bit of an eerie feeling, almost like out-of-body experience because Ukraine is the place I grew up and spent most of my life in,” she said.
Although it’s easy to encourage Ukrainians to flee the area, Klochko said that would mean upending their lives – an option not possible for many.
Petrowsky moved to the U.S. in 2002 from Lviv, the largest city in the western part of Ukraine. Although she’s relieved that western countries, including the U.S., have amplified their financial and military support for Ukraine recently, she’s doubtful that Ukrainian troops can hold their ground.
“No matter how much stronger the Ukrainian army is compared to 2014, we cannot withstand the thousands upon thousands of Russian troops,” Petrowsky said. “They have been building their military budget forever.”
Both said it’s dangerous for the international community to turn its back on the situation, especially if Russia were to turn its attention next to other former Soviet states and allies.
“If the West doesn’t help stop it, what holds them (Russia) from going to the NATO countries, Poland, to the Baltic countries?” Petrowsky said.
Not only will a Russian invasion result in death and destruction, Klochko said it could lead to an exodus of Ukrainians seeking safety elsewhere.
“More people are going to die, more property is gonna be destroyed, more refugees – internal and international migration,” she said. “The more society gets destabilized, the more unsafe it becomes, they’ll seek to move elsewhere.”
Although Klochko said the increased focus on Ukraine is “not for good reasons,” she hopes the attention isn’t simply “15 seconds of fame” that end with Russia and President Vladimir Putin still in position to threaten the independence of neighboring countries.
“I’m hoping renewed focus on Ukraine and conflict between Russia and Ukraine in so far as Russia trying to take over Ukrainian territory and independence, I’m hoping it will happen in some kind of positive resolution, restore territorial integrity, restabilization,” she said.
If there’s one thing Petrowsky said she hopes to convey to her fellow central Ohioans, it’s that “Ukrainians are very strong” and will do everything in their power to preserve their homeland.
“Even because the Russian force is so strong, even if they were going to invade, it’s going to be a bloodbath because Ukrainians will be defending every inch of their country,” she said.