Hours after Russia invaded Ukraine, shelling cities and military bases, much of Long Island's Ukrainian community felt the attack personally — fearing Thursday for far-off loved ones and hoping, in many cases praying, for peace.
In Mineola, a small group gathered outside the Nassau County Legislature, some waving the blue and gold flags of the embattled Eastern European country.
In Hempstead, the pastor of a Ukrainian Catholic Church, rushed to the pulpit to lead prayers at morning Mass.
And the president of Long Island's chapter of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America spent Thursday trying to get details about the invasion from loved ones now under attack.
"There’s a lack of information. We know that there’s been what is reported as some airstrikes in certain cities," said chapter president Oleh N. Dekajlo, who also serves as the group's legal counsel.
Dekajlo, who has a second cousin in the capital Kyiv who works as a federal prosecutor, added: "Are there land troops in Ukraine? We don’t know."
Long Island is home to what the U.S. Census Bureau estimates is 12,978 people with Ukrainian ancestry — 7,775 in Suffolk and 5,203 in Nassau. There are 64,385 in New York City, and 1,009,874 across the United States.
On the steps of the Nassau County Legislature Thursday, about 20 people gathered to show support for Ukraine.
Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, who said he had great grandparents from Odessa, Ukraine, greeted them. Blakeman said Americans "have to be in solidarity with the Ukrainian people."
"We are with you," he told the group. "This kind of violence has to stop."
Afterward, Dekajlo's group posted photos from the event on its website along with a simple message: "Glory to Ukraine. Glory to her Heroes."
Dekajlo, of East Meadow, has been supplementing firsthand accounts by watching television reports showing nighttime attacks, and video chatting.
"All night and all morning, I’ve been doing texting and messengering and doing these video calls with relatives and people that we know in Ukraine," he said.
He noted that his mother-in-law has been visiting Long Island from Ukraine for about a month. On Thursday morning, she got notification that her scheduled flight home had been canceled, leaving her apart from her husband and clothing boutique close to Mykolaiv, a city near the Black Sea in the southern part of the country.
"They’re going to be geographically separated because of what’s going on," Dekajlo said.
Father Wasyl Hrynkiw, pastor of St. Vladimir the Great Ukrainian Catholic Church in Hempstead, led prayers for his native country at morning Mass.
"I think that Russia, always historically, tried to invade and control all the countries surrounding her, that’s all — surrounding Russia," said Hrynkiw, originally from the western city of Ivano-Frankivsk. "And Putin is the, maybe, a second Stalin-like aggressor and dictator."
Hrynkiw said he called his sister, Olga Ketsman, who lives in the western part of the country, to check on her, her children and granddaughter.
For Natalka Michaliszyn, principal of the School of Ukrainian Studies and Religion in Uniondale, the dizzying chain of events left her stunned and searching for how to process it all.
"I don’t even know what to say, really. It’s been a terrible night," Michaliszyn said. "The worry, the shock, the prayers, it’s absolutely a nightmare. I have a pit in my stomach and this nervous, worried energy that won’t stop. I’m trying to get in touch with family and friends."
"Prayers and peaceful protests," she added, "that’s all we can do from here right now."
When he served as the mayor of Glen Cove, Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) attended events at the Russian Mission to the United Nations compound in the city. Suozzi said Thursday he’s seen relations come "full circle" from the Cold War days when the Killenworth mansion was owned by the then-Soviet Union.
"There was always this veil of mystery and mistrust," he said. Then, with glasnost and the fall of the Soviet Union, there was "an idea of being public and open" that improved relations with the residents of the city and the occupants of the mission residence.
"I went there to the mansion for celebrations, in fact they hosted some events for citywide celebrations," Suozzi said. "Now we’re going back to the bad old days. We’ve all known this about Putin but now it’s become very real."
Roman Lewkowicz, the artistic director of Mriya Dance, a Ukrainian youth folk dance ensemble in Uniondale, said Long Islanders of Ukrainian ancestry are "doing the best they can."
"They have grave concerns for the future of the country and their families," he said. Lewkowicz has only been able to reach some of his relatives, those living in western Ukraine.
"I have not found my family in eastern Ukraine."
Sharing information and organizing fundraisers is getting Volodymyr Tsyalkovsky, of Great Neck, through such unsettled times in his native country.
"I personally feel helpless," said Tsyalkovsky, a financial consultant who came to the United States 15 years ago. "Doing all we can, I feel it's still not enough. … Don't know what else we can do to help. … I wish I personally could do more, but not sure what."