CLEVELAND (WJW) – An urgent warning from Secretary of State Anthony Blinken Friday telling Americans to leave Ukraine immediately has many people across Ohio very concerned.
The state has one of the largest Ukrainian populations in the nation with a community of about 80,000 people, many of whom live locally in Northeast Ohio.
“It’s been stressful to see family members back in Ukraine that have the sense that they are rolling it back to the old Soviet Communist times,” said Attorney Marta Kelleher, President of United Ukrainian Organizations of Ohio.
She says the initial immigration of Ukrainians to the Buckeye state happened just after World War II and what’s happening right now with Vladimir Putin feels very similar.
“Because he wants the West, he wants us to capitulate,” said Kelleher, “We all know Ukraine is defending the democracies of the countries on its western flank Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania.”
Ukrainians locally have collaborated and are united against Russia’s current actions and have held protests in the past.
In 2014 a number of demonstrations were held opposing Russia’s invasion into Crimea and Eastern Ukraine.
This latest act of aggression would be the third and seen as a direct attack on democracy, says Kelleher, who has family members living in both Western Ukraine and Eastern Ukraine in the Donbas region.
“Unfortunately the area where they live in was very industrialized,” said Kelleher, “Now it’s just desolate and they don’t have anywhere to move.”
Late Friday evening Kelleher’s organization had a Zoom call with Ohio Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) who is co-chair of the U.S. Senate’s Ukraine Caucus.
Portman and a bipartisan delegation recently traveled to Ukraine and met with President Zelensky.
He called this a “critical time in Ukraine’s history,” and said the delegation “sent a message to Russia and the people of Ukraine that the United States stands with Ukraine in response to unwarranted and unprovoked Russian aggression.”
U.S. Forces have been beefing up their presence in nearby Romania and President Joe Biden said that any aggression would be met with severe consequences, but Marta and many others think the time to act is now.
“Ukrainians aren’t asking for American troops on the ground, we believe it really is all about deterrence, particularly sanctions would be something that could be imposed,” said Kelleher, “And if we don’t do something proactively then eventually we are going to be brought into this situation.”