“There is no safe place”: Hampton Roads Ukrainians try to help friends, family caught in violent invasion
Anna Makhorkina has been anxious for months, ever since Russia started massing troops on Ukraine’s borders last fall.
“[This] growing constant feeling of worry, helplessness, because you are here, they're there,” Makhorkina said.
Makhorkina heads the Tidewater Ukrainian Cultural Association, or TUCA. She said the hundreds of other Ukrainian-Americans she knows across Hampton Roads have felt the same.
On Friday morning, around 60 TUCA members and supporters rallied in support of Ukraine in Town Point Park in Norfolk.
Many were wrapped in or waving Ukrainian flags and bearing signs with messages like, “The Kremlin brings death.”
Makhorkina moved to America in 1998 for school. The rest of her family still lives in Ukraine.
“I constantly talk to my parents every day. They were not worried, even as of Monday this week. They said, ‘Look, everything is fine, don't worry,’” she said. “But we worry because we see what's happening, and we know that it may unfortunately just be the beginning.”
On Thursday, her parents finally admitted things weren’t fine. Military facilities were under attack near their home in Lviv, a city in Western Ukraine far from the Russian border.
“There is no safe place, no one that's safe,” Makorkina said.
The invasion of Ukraine is only the latest Russian aggression in Ukraine over the last decade.
In 2014, Russia invaded and annexed the region of Crimea. For the last several years, Russian-backed separatists have waged a civil war in Ukraine’s east.
But Steve Hanson, the Vice Provost of Academic and International Affairs at the College of William and Mary, said this full-scale invasion takes it to a whole other level.
What we’re seeing in Ukraine is nothing less than “one of the most significant geopolitical moments really in our lifetimes,” Hanson said.
Hanson’s expertise is in Russian history and politics. He’s traveled there dozens of times over the last 35 years.
He says Russian President Vladimir Putin’s views of an ancestral Russian claim over Ukraine are driving this invasion.
“President Putin made it really clear that his own belief system is shaped by these outdated, outmoded views,” Hanson said. “This [is] not a kind of pragmatic figure who might stop short of all out assault, but really, somehow a person who believes it's this historical mission to unite the Russias - parts of what he thinks are all Russia that are actually independent countries.”
The invasion is not a popular move among the Russian populace, and Hanson said the invasion may ultimately weaken Putin as Russia’s elite are subjected to sanctions and pressures that push them away from supporting the current regime.
Before that, Hanson predicts a terrible human toll, with potentially millions of displaced refugees, along with casualties and deaths on both sides.
Makhorkina says TUCA is doing what they can stateside to support their families and friends halfway around the world.
They’re writing letters to Congress and sharing as much information as they can find. They’ll be sharing vetted fundraising efforts on their Facebook page.