NEPTUNE CITY – Every day and night Olga Kika of Neptune City calls her friends and family still living in Ukraine.
“We can see the world is tired because of the war in Ukraine,” Kika said. “But Ukrainians have no choice.”
In Memorial Park here, a crowd of about 100 people gathered for Ukraine’s Independence Day on Wednesday. That day also marks the sixth month since Russian invaded Ukraine in February.
The event was hosted by the Ukrainian National Women’s League of America, a nearly century-old organization that has provided humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
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Natalie Pawlenko, president of the organization said, they have been supporting 12 Ukrainian hospitals with $22 million of medical aid and nine orphanages that have been evacuated.
Since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, the organization shifted towards advocacy, she said.
“We became very vocal in Washington,” she said, and added they have continued grassroots advocacy efforts.
“We don’t believe that power resides exclusively in (the) higher ups. People have a great deal of agency to make change. … Because if we speak to the broader community and they agree that Ukraine is worthy of support, then that gets transferred to elected officials.”
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In attendance at the event were Neptune Mayor Andrew Wardell, Monmouth County Freeholder Director Tom Arnone and US Rep. Chris Smith, RN.J.
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The last half-year has been difficult. Tereza Roth of Marlboro did not think the war would drag out for months on end.
At the start of the war, her father’s aunt, who is 93, had to flee Kharkiv and her family had to shift to support relatives still living in Ukraine.
“It’s terrible,” she said. “It’s a lot of pain.”
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Nathalie Halbout of Middletown said she’s a pessimist, so she expected Russia to drag the war out.
She pointed to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and said, “The war in Ukraine has been going on really for eight years. It hasn’t stopped. So, there was no reason to think the bigger invasion was just going to fizzle out.”
Halbout and her husband David, both textile artists, have been raising funds for medical supplies for Ukrainian soldiers at public and private events since February. Where Sept. 10, they will be at the Red Bank Garage Sale at a table near the borough library.
“We’re still continuing with fundraising. We’ve not given up,” Nathalie Halbout said. “But now, you know, as you can imagine, interests shift and people are not as willing to give.”
Halbout’s niece Maiia Dvokina, who arrived in the US this spring, said she missed her life in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.
“I want to call my friends, but sometimes I stop myself because all the stories are not so pleasant,” Dvokina said.
Her parents, who are living with her brother in Prague, are also homesick.
“They’re alone and there’s no community really in suburban Prague,” Halbout said. But, “they have what they need; they have a place to live. They’re OK. … Other people are in much worse situations.”
She said they are continuing to fundraise because, “For us it’s important to continue raising awareness … having people remember what’s going on.”
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Yuri Polyarush came to live with his sister in Red Bank in February. He had a sense that something was going to happen and decided to leave Ukraine. A short time later, Russia launched a full-scale invasion.
His father and aunt are still living in Odessa, the home of literary elites like Isaac Babel, Ilya Ilf and Yevgeny Petrov. The port city has also been under constant attack since February.
He said recently there’s been a lull in missile strikes, but it’s still a scary situation.
Because of the war, Polyarush has filed paperwork to work in the US He hopes to be able to legally work in the commercial film industry.
“Nobody knows, (but) I feel Ukraine is going to win.” Polyarush said. He believes it will take “another five (months) at least.”
OliviaLiuis a reporter covering transportation, Red Bank and western Monmouth County. She can be reached at email@example.com.