Tucson’s Ukrainian community reflects on one year of war

Tucson’s Ukrainian community reflects on one year of war
Published: Feb. 23, 2023 at 6:46 PM MST|Updated: Feb. 23, 2023 at 7:09 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (13 News) - Friday marks one year since Russia invaded Ukraine.

In that time, many thousands of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians have been killed and millions more have been displaced.

Here in Tucson, the Ukrainian population has grown with families seeking refuge.

“Ukraine and Ukrainians are very well known for their resiliency and the ability to bounce back and survive, if not thrive,” remarked Celia Hildebrand, a Ukrainian American and member of the Ukrainian American Society.

Since the beginning of the war, many were forced to flee the country or separate from their families. At least 20 families from have come to Tucson.

Hildebrand and the Ukrainian American Society have been helping those families adjust to a new life and culture.

“It’s been really rough. Not all of them have English fluency,” she said. “We’ve had a number of elders come in and women who have lost their husbands or they were still serving in the war.”

So far, at least two Ukrainians have decided to return home. She said most are planning to do the same when the war is over.

“They just see this as a transitory time,” Hildebrand said. “If they can possibly thrive here, and get full citizenship, I think the younger ones might stay, but the older ones just want to go home.”

Hildebrand, as well as Ihor Kunasz, President of the Ukrainian American Society, said they never expected the war to go on for this long.

″Nobody thought it would be a war of destruction of the Ukrainian people,” Kunasz said. “He’s killing people. Putin is killing people. Obviously, you have a war, but he is specifically targeting people, hoping to break them and that is working totally in reverse.”

Kunasz wants to see more resources go to Ukraine to help. He said Russia is not winning the war and that the Ukrainian spirit is strong.

When asked what he would say to those still in Ukraine, he said, “keep up the fight, we are so proud of you, that you are holding on. You are not giving in. You are young boys on the frontline, my nephew is there. We will win.”

Many Ukrainians in Tucson are holding onto their faith and traditions as they wait for the war to end and for Ukraine to rise again.

″'Why did the viper then become so sad? But it will come back and regain its flowers,’” Kunasz quoted a traditional Ukrainian song. “And Ukraine will come back.”

At 6 p.m. Friday, Saint Michael’s Ukrainian Catholic Church will hos a service marking 365 days of war in Ukraine. They will gather to pray for the end of the war and to honor those who are fighting and those who have lost their lives.

You can find more information about Tucson’s Ukrainian American Society and future events HERE.