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Some Ukrainian-Americans are fearing the worst for their families back home


To Chicago now, where the city's large Ukrainian community watches from afar as Russian troops amass along their home country's border. Russia's threat to Ukraine isn't new, but as WBEZ's Anna Savchenko reports, now some Ukrainian Americans fear the worst for their family back home.

ANNA SAVCHENKO, BYLINE: The 100,000 Ukrainian Americans living in the Chicago area are spread across the city and its suburbs. About 10,000 of them live in an area called Ukrainian Village, which, with its brown-brick buildings and snow-flanked streets, resembles Kyiv in the winter.

On an icy morning last week, Larisa Semkiv, a Ukrainian American who emigrated to Chicago in the 1990s, walked out of the arched doorways of a Catholic Ukrainian church after mass. Since the conflict between Russia and Ukraine began eight years ago, Semkiv says she and her husband, Vasel, have felt a daily sense of dread.

LARISA SEMKIV: We feel pain. It's not like sharp pain. Like, every day, you run to the TV to the computer to check what's happening there, what's happening there. Now, it's, like, just slower.

SAVCHENKO: They're sending money and clothes to relatives they left behind in Ukraine. But like many expats here in Chicago, Vasel fears the worst is yet to come.

VASEL SEMKIV: We just hope that the invasion is not going to happen because it's going to be terrible.

SAVCHENKO: Halyna Parasiuk is an archivist of the Ukrainian National Museum across the street from the church. She says while Chicago's Ukrainian diaspora isn't as large as the one in New York, it's a tight community of established professionals.

HALYNA PARASIUK: It's only here. Ukrainian communities, they preserve many Ukrainian institutions, businesses, stores, two museums, churches. It's three churches on one street.

SAVCHENKO: Upstairs in the archives of the museum, Parasiuk scrolls through the images of a recent exhibit they just took down, photos by Ukrainian photojournalist Petro Oleksijenko. They document mass demonstrations held by Ukrainians in Chicago in the 1950s before Ukraine gained independence. The protesters denounced Stalin and the Soviet regime. She points to one of the banners they're holding.

PARASIUK: Throw out Russian killers from the United Nations. They demand that Ukraine be free of her oppressor.

SAVCHENKO: Of course, the regime has changed since then. But Parasiuk says Chicago's Ukrainian community sees parallels and calls for the same freedoms they demanded almost 70 years ago.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Chanting) No to Putin.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting) No to Putin.

SAVCHENKO: Oksana Markarova is Ukraine's ambassador to the U.S. She recently visited Ukrainian Village to rally support.

OKSANA MARKAROVA: Unfortunately, today, we see more than 100,000 troops around our border and renewed threat of further aggression.

SAVCHENKO: Markarova says Ukrainians have been living with the fear of war since 2014 and that there is much more at stake than Ukraine's sovereignty.

MARKAROVA: We are not only fighting for us. We are fighting for any country to make the democratic - to make the civilizational choice to be democratic and free.

SAVCHENKO: Archivist Halyna Parasiuk says she worries about her family. She has two adult sons living in Ukraine who could be called to fight if war breaks out.

PARASIUK: I am really scared about it, honestly, yes. And I'm asking myself what I'm going to do. Maybe I going to go to Ukraine.

SAVCHENKO: For now, all she can do is pray for a peaceful resolution that doesn't lead to war.

For NPR News, I'm Anna Savchenko in Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anna Savchenko