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Ukrainian citizens in Chicago continue to cope two years into conflicts abroad with Russia

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in early 2022, many Ukrainian Americans in Chicago feel helpless. As the conflict abroad continues, they question the role of global powers, particularly the United States, in providing support to the embattled nation. 

“It’s really upsetting to witness the suffering of my family and all Ukrainian people in general as they defend themselves against Russian aggression,” said Sandra Meleshko, 74, from Chicago’s Ukrainian Village neighborhood. With U.S. aid to Ukraine deadlocked in Congress, Meleshko said she fears for the future. “The lack of action from the United States is so upsetting, especially considering their huge role in promoting democracy and protecting human rights.” 

Sandra Meleshko, 74. | Photo by Laura Grahn.

Meleshko helped her granddaughter, who is a part of her school’s National Art Honor Society, create pins to sell at their school to raise money for Ukraine during the spring of 2022. “The students were all eager to help and learn more about what they can do. It really warmed my heart,” Meleshko said.

Many Ukrainian Americans have organized fundraisers to help raise money for the cause.

Elena Diadenko-Hunter, 54, who was born in Poltava, Ukraine, began offering art workshops in 2022 to raise money for aid. She has raised $90,000 to aid her homeland, utilizing art as a means of expression and fundraising.

“I had a huge pain in my heart, like all of us. It just hurts. It hurts so much it’s just an unbelievable pain,” Diadenko-Hunter said. of her motivation to raise both money and awareness.

Other Ukrainian Americans have used their voices and platforms to bring attention and help to Ukraine. Kristina Zolinsky, 43, a receptionist for the Ukrainian National Museum of Chicago, frequently participates in local events to show support for the country. She said she is concerned about how Ukraine is going to be able to stand up to its centuries-long adversary. 

“The U.S. needs to support Ukraine in any way it can, whether it be with weapons or providing military support,” Zolinsky said.

Many Ukrainian Americans stay connected with family and friends in Ukraine. Diadenko-Hunter said she was speaking on the phone to her boyfriend in Kyiv as it was bombed earlier this year on Feb. 24. Luckily, he returned her call a few hours later unharmed, but Diadenko-Hunter was thoroughly worried not only about her boyfriend, but for her home country. 

“We need military supplies, weapons,” she said. “Because my boyfriend told me, if the U.S. is not going to give the military aid, then Ukraine has maybe two, three months before it will all be over. They don’t have enough there to survive.”

In addition to providing Ukraine with more money and weapons, Meleshko said she wants to see more sanctions on Russia. “The United States has to stand in solidarity with Ukraine by making harsher punishments for Russia,” she said. “As U.S. citizens, we have to speak up to our government and make them act in support of Ukraine.”

Additional reporting by Leah Flanigan and Caden Moe. 

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