Opinion Piece: From Bridgewater to Ukraine with Raritan Neighbor Larissa

Although watching events in Ukraine from afar may feel like watching an action film to some, or a problem that is occurring far from our borders, for others the events in Ukraine are hitting much closer to home. There are many Ukrainian-Americans like my family living in Bridgewater and its surrounding areas.  View her video here:Larissa Wowk in her own words

We have friends and family throughout Ukraine with whom we speak regularly to understand what’s actually happening on the ground there. Many of us are either the first generation of Ukrainians who came over as refugees after WWII or more recent immigrants who have moved here in the past 20 or so years. We are living in dread, terrified for our loved ones but also very proud of how strong they are in the face of danger. Our normal morning routines of getting up and getting ready for our work day have changed to starting each morning with checking on loved ones in Ukraine to make sure they are still ok and reading the news to see if Ukraine is still holding its own against Putin’s army.

You may ask why is this happening? Why did Putin attack Ukraine in the first place?

It all comes down to the fact that Putin is an autocratic dictator. The people of Russia have a democracy in name only. Elections are technically held for political office but the opposition parties all end up being jailed for speaking against the current leadership. The people of Russia do not have the freedom to speak their minds - any comments against the Kremlin are considered treasonous, nor do they have the freedom to assemble and rally; any that do so are jailed. Russia does not have a free and independent media and all news is controlled by the state.

Compare that to Ukraine which has a true democracy, free media, freedom of speech and a population that has proven multiple times that if their government is not working for its people then the people will rise up in massive rallies to ensure that it does. Many Ukrainians have family living in Russia and so word of this freedom has been spreading. This spread of information directly threatens Putin’s regime in Russia and Putin is well aware that ultimately this may be his downfall. Let’s be clear: Ukraine is not at war with Russia, it is at war with Putin and his regime of oppression and fear.

This brings us to his invasion of Ukraine. This invasion is all part of a plan Putin has used time and time again: Demoralize the population, push more and more Ukrainians to flee, dismantle communication systems, then move on the leadership. By changing the leadership in Ukraine to one that is more aligned with his own, he hopes to secure his ability to rule uncontested for many more years to come. In order to get this desired result, Putin is willing to reduce Ukraine's major cities to rubble if he has to, and kill thousands. He. Does. Not. Care. The Ukrainian people have known and understood this for many years. Since the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 and his infiltration into the Donbas and Luhansk areas Ukraine has been preparing. They are not going to give up all they have gained since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 without a strong fight.

I find it quite frustrating, sitting here safely in New Jersey while watching Putin slaughter Ukrainian civilians, including children. His troops have been deliberately firing rockets and missiles into hospitals, apartment buildings and other civilian areas spreading terror. His troops recently took out communication networks such as a TV tower in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, killing five people and hitting a Holocaust Memorial.

Instead of sitting idly, Ukrainians across New Jersey are busy finding ways to help support Ukraine. While the air raid sirens ring out in Ukrainian cities and families are hiding from bombs in their basements in Ukraine, Ukrainian-Americans have taken to social media to help the general public understand what is happening, rallys of support are being held in various cities and states daily, and massive humanitarian aid collections are being organized. Ukraine has a long history of being under siege from various invaders over the centuries. They have always turned to prayer to give them the strength and resolve to continue on; Ukrainian churches in New Jersey and across the US have been holding nightly Divine Liturgies and prayer sessions since the invasion began.

But the war, although only a few days old, is already taking its toll. While people have flocked to join those protecting their homeland hundreds of thousands of others are fleeing to safety. Homes have been destroyed, basic utilities of heat, electricity and water are no longer functioning in some areas and it is still winter. It is still very cold outside. Supply lines for the most basic needs are sporadic. The need for humanitarian aid is great. Every action we take here in the US matters.

Our cousin Vira who lives in Western Ukraine near the city of Ivano-Frankivsk recently sent us the following message

“ My consciousness can not perceive what happened. One day everything turned upside down. It’s like the world is inside out. We met the enemy with dignity, the courage of our soldiers is priceless. It is very important that the whole world is behind us, and that help comes from everywhere - equipment, money, moral support. This should contribute to a quick end result! Victory is behind us, and there can be nothing else, because we are on our own land. “

This is a message we are hearing time and time again from loved ones in Ukraine. They need our help, they need everyone to help.

So what can you do?

Primary need

Ukraine does NOT expect or want Western ‘boots on the ground’ and does not need soldiers from other countries. But it does need more defensive weapons: anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles like stingers. The most effective way of getting this into Ukraine is through your government — and your government needs to know that you care.

Contact your representative / country leader and ask for IMMEDIATE additional defensive weapons to be sent to Ukraine.

Get in touch with your congressional representative and your two senators. Call the White House: 1–202–456–1111 and/or leave a message on their website.

ASK for the IMMEDIATE release of more lethal defensive weapons for Ukraine.

Humanitarian Aid

Although there are many pop up organizations collecting for Ukraine, there are several large well established and vetted aid organizations that are providing supplies to Ukraine: (Don’t forget to ask if your employer has a donation matching fund)

Razom for Ukraine: This is a grassroots Ukrainian American 501(c)3 charity started in 2014 after the Maidan Revolution of Dignity. Based in New York, they are sending items like tourniquets, bandages, and satellite phones. https://razomforukraine.org/

International Red Cross Ukraine Crisis Fund: The International Committee of the Red Cross remains active in Ukraine, saving and protecting the lives of victims of armed conflict and violence. Their neutral and impartial humanitarian action supports the most vulnerable people. https://www.icrc.org/en/donate/ukraine

Revived Soldiers of Ukraine: this non-profit provides medical aid and sustainable living standards to soldiers of Ukraine and members of their families as well as to those people who suffered and were affected by military conflict. https://www.rsukraine.org/

Spirit of America: this non-profit works closely with US military and State Department personnel in Poland to meet the urgent needs of Ukraine’s Armed Forces on the front lines. They provide medical supplies, first aid kits, and medical equipment for Ukrainian soldiers and field medical personnel to provide emergency humanitarian assistance to Ukrainian refugees who have escaped to safety in Poland. https://spiritofamerica.org/

Nova Ukraine: this charity provides humanitarian aid to vulnerable groups and individuals in Ukraine. It raises awareness about Ukraine in the United States and throughout the world and supports Ukraine in its effort to build a strong civil society, to reform its educational system, and to eliminate corruption. https://novaukraine.org/

Sunflower of Peace: This nonprofit organization is raising money to prepare first aid medical tactical backpacks for paramedics and doctors on the front lines. Each backpack is designed for groups of 5 to ten people and includes an array of first aid supplies. https://www.sunflowerofpeace.com/

The Ukrainian National Women’s League of America is collecting donations to help civilians inside Ukraine who have been displaced or injured. The UNWLA was established in 1925 to unite women of Ukrainian descent or affiliation to preserve their ethnic identity and cultural heritage within a framework of volunteer humanitarian endeavors. https://unwla.org/top-news/call-for-humanitarian-aid/

Everyday actions you can take

Every one of us can choose to act on the behalf of Ukrainians fighting for freedom and democracy. We can ask for help from neighbors, colleagues, supermarkets, our mayors, etc. Here are some ideas of what each of us can do :

Ask others to donate.

Ask others to help call your representatives in government

Buy a Ukrainian flag and fly it, wrap your trees in Ukrainian colors of blue and yellow or light your house or buildings in these colors. (Photos of this type of support are being sent back to those in Ukraine to help boost morale)

Join a rally in your nearest town or city

Ask your mayor to raise the Ukrainian flag in solidarity with Ukraine.

Ask your local liquor store to put all Russian products in storage until Russia rejoins the civilized world.

Boycott Russian businesses like Lukoil.

Ask your supermarket to remove all Russian products from the shelves.

We thank you for your support.

Larissa Wowk

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