South Floridians on Pins and Needles Over Potential Russian Invasion of Ukraine

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Russian troops are massing along the border Friday with Ukraine, and there aren’t any signs there’s progress between Moscow and the White House.

The tense situation has South Florida residents with roots in Ukraine worried their homeland will be overrun soon — something sadly they know all about. 

For Paul Galadza, a deacon at the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church, a single photo captures much of his family’s history. His parents and older siblings fled Ukraine in a wagon in the middle of the night.

“My parents left Ukraine in 1944 ahead of the communists," Galadza said. "They spent five years in refugee camps,” Galadza said.

Galadza is keeping a close eye on the situation with Russians at Ukraine's borders — military exercises with ground troops, naval ships and fighters jets.

“The Pope issued a call for an international day of prayer last Wednesday, where he called everybody to pray for peace in Ukraine because if war were to break out, the consequences would be catastrophic. More people will die. More people will be maimed,” Galadza said.

He said his niece — Larissa Galadza, the Government of Canada’s Ambassador to Ukraine — is a perfect example of how far the family has come since the photo was taken.

The distance from Miami to Kiev is 5,700 miles— seven time zones — but the Ukrainian culture lives here in South Florida. Videos online show the members of a dance group made up of Ukrainian Americans keeping their culture alive.  

“One of the things we have here in South Florida is a dance group that’s been here since 1949,” said Donna Maksymowich-Waskiewicz, the president of the Ukrainian American Club.

In 1917, Russian troops first came over the Ukrainian border. Most recently, Russian forces invaded Crimea in eastern Ukraine in 2014. There’s now fear it can happen across the rest of the country.

“You know you’re always worried about your family. We all have family of some sort even though they might be removed now. No one wants to see their motherland obliterated by somebody else,” Maksymowich-Waskiewicz said.

The Florida National Guard confirmed they have troops that are part of the NATO forces in the region to deter Russian aggression.  

“My first thought would be to say thank you. Thank you for showing up our defenses over there," Patricia Krysa said. She says many in South Florida’s Latin community should relate to what’s happening to their homeland.  

“If they knew what was going on in Ukraine I am sure they would feel solidarity with us. Cubans have been victims of communism for decades now,” Krysa said. “I think Cubans can understand very well. Venezuelans right now are fighting for their county."

There will be two church services on Sunday at the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church, as well as a special program where they will sing songs from Ukraine that have a message of peace.

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