Father Vladyslav Budash was born and raised in a city north of Kiev, the capital city of Ukraine. His parents are still living in the war-torn country. NewsdayTV's Shari Einhorn reports.  Credit: Photo Credit: Budash's Family; Newsday Staff

As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine grinds into its third year, whatever hope Long Island’s Ukrainians had for quick victory is gone. Instead there is sadness for friends and relatives who have been killed, frustration with the international community that they say seems to have forgotten them and a determination born from desperation.

“I still hope we will be able to win,” said Vladyslav Budash, a priest at Smithtown’s Resurrection Byzantine Catholic Church. “We don’t have a choice.”

By almost every measure, the war has created a rolling humanitarian disaster. The United Nations has confirmed at least 30,457 civilians killed or injured, including 587 dead children, mostly victims of explosive weapons the U.N. said were launched by Russian forces. Western officials have estimated that hundreds of thousands of soldiers on both sides have been killed or wounded.

More than 6 million Ukrainians are refugees, according to the U.N. Most are in Europe. Some are in the United States and dozens are on Long Island, home to about 13,000 people of Ukrainian descent. The World Bank last year estimated the cost of reconstruction and recovery at $411 billion over the next 10 years, not including what the Ukrainian government will need to meet basic needs like pensions and operating schools and hospitals.

In the last week, Russia captured Avdiivka, a strategically important city in Ukraine’s southeast, and The Associated Press reported that dwindling ammunition threatened Ukraine’s hold along the 620-mile front. Key U.S. aid from $60 billion supplemental funding bill is stalled with the House on recess. Without it, a senior U.S. defense official told reporters in a briefing this month, “We will see more civilians dying. And we will see Ukraine struggling to protect their critical infrastructure and their forward line of troops.”

“In the beginning, it was a miracle that Ukraine survived, that we could stay and also push back the Russians,” Budash said. But after two years, “I don’t have the same bright and sharp feelings,” he said. “It’s not possible to be excited and nervous all the time, but I can’t say I am joyful. I am sad. War is still there and people are dying.”

Budash said he tries to talk every couple days with his parents, who are in their 60s and live in Chernihiv, in the country’s north. “They became in these last two years much, much older than they are in years,” he said. “My mom says to me we had an (air) alarm this morning, this afternoon, this evening. When you live in this every day, you don’t know — maybe you will die in one hour, maybe at night when you sleep. It makes life stressful.”

Budash said his parents have had no heat or electricity for much of the winter. In the last few weeks, he said, a Russian missile destroyed the grocery store near their apartment. In the fall, a missile destroyed the theater that was on the city’s main square.

Near the square is a park that Budash’s mother used to visit. The city’s residents set up a memorial to the war dead there and now she cannot bear to go. “She says to see all the pictures, the young faces, she cannot manage her emotions.”

“I had a good life in Ukraine, I was very happy,” said Anna Konovalova, one of 32 Ukrainian refugees in housing provided by the Sisters of St. Joseph in Brentwood. Konovalova fled her home city Dnipro in 2022 with her two children, 5 and 10: first to the Ukrainian countryside, then Lithuania, then Brooklyn before arriving in Brentwood on Christmas Eve, 2022.

“For one and a half years, I was alone here,” she said. She had problems with her son, who didn’t want to speak English and wanted to return to Ukraine, she said. In the beginning, she had trouble making rent and securing documents.

Life now is better in some ways. She has a job in IT, and her husband has joined the family. In Ukraine, he was commercial director at a factory; here he works outside, installing Internet connections. “He never worked like this before,” she said.

They have talked about moving into a home of their own, mostly for their children. “I want to buy a house that they live in and know it’s their home,” she said. “We want to live normally, do the best — we want (a) good future for our kids.” Long Island, she said, is “very expensive.”

When Konovalova thinks about the war, it is with dread. Her brother calls her once a month. His unit fought in Bakhmut, then Avdiivka. It had 100 soldiers when the war started. Now it has 30. “Sometimes he cries. He was my favorite brother who I love, who I spend all my childhood with … and when he call he said he’s scared, he just want to say he love us and miss us.”

 Sometimes, on these calls, Konovalova said he asks her to tell him about her life and her children. Sometimes he “just wants to say goodbye.”

“I couldn’t help him,” she said. “The only thing is to buy some clothes that he need. It’s very small. It’s all I can do.”

When Konovalova thinks about the end of the war, it is also with dread. “I don’t see a good finish. I think Russia will take a big part of Ukraine and occupy it. Russia will never stop. Now she will take part of Ukraine and in several years, try to take Poland or Lithuania."

She elaborated in an email: a negotiated peace that leaves Ukraine "without a large part of the territory, access to the Black Sea, and investment" would devastate the country, she said. "I want to believe in justice! I want to think that the Russian government will be stopped and forced to withdraw troops from our land, return prisoners, restore everything destroyed, and demine territories!"

“These people were forced to leave everything behind,” said Sister Annelle Fitzpatrick, director of the refugee resettlement program of Sisters of St. Joseph, which in addition to the Ukrainians serves 12 Afghans who fled the Taliban.

The Sisters give their guests free housing for a year or more. Most programs offer three months, Fitzpatrick said. But it “takes at least a year to learn the language, to get a vocational skill, a credit rating, open a bank account and hopefully get their kids in school.”

The Sisters try to pair their guests with Long Island families who can “take them to ShopRite, take them to Walmart to get clothes, to the DMV to get an American license.”

Some need more: tutors, counselors. “Mental health is a major issue, much less finding someone who speaks Ukrainian, or Dari, or Pashto.”

While some guests qualify for government assistance, the paperwork takes time, and the Sisters provide for their guests in the interim. They have made ends meet, so far, with grants and donations.

“I could use a platoon of social workers,” Fitzpatrick said.

“There are very few celebratory occasions” in a community that used to observe many, said Oleh Dekajlo, who lives and practices in East Meadow, and is past president of Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, a nonprofit organization advocating for Americans of Ukrainian descent.

“Everybody is focused on fundraising, memorials and support events,” he said. For Ukrainian expats and those like him who were born in the U.S. but keep close ties to Ukraine, “It’s on everybody’s mind. It’s the topic that gets discussed outside of churches, outside of Saturday schools” where young Long Islanders of Ukrainian descent learn their mother tongue.

Dekajlo said he believed U.S. support for Ukraine is critical — he spoke this week on his way to CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, where he hoped to enlist leaders for the cause.

But, he said, “I’ve been tremendously disappointed in the lack of resolve and commitment from both parties in dealing with horrendous oppression, using Ukraine as political capital, this pawn in a big game.”

Often, he said, the needed military aid seems to have “strings attached, because everybody’s trying to bootleg it for some other cause” like the war in Israel or the wall on the U.S.-Mexican border.

Meanwhile, he said, “People are dying. We’re actually talking about blood and guts.”  

“We try to make pierogi and sell them to help,” said Galina Onichtchak, a custodian in East Meadow’s Woodland Middle School who moved to the United States 29 years ago and lives in Bellmore. “In the beginning, we raised a lot.” But sales have fallen off. “Now people are not interested so much.”

She found this confounding. “America helps a lot of different countries. Americans help, and they are supposed to help Ukraine too.”

What changed, she said, is media attention. “Americans were more interested when they see more on the television … I feel Americans can feel differently if the media shows destroyed towns, the kids that sleep outside when it’s cold, people that don’t have money or food.”

Onichtchak, like others interviewed for this story, said the war had turned her into a voracious consumer of news. “Every night when I go to bed I check the news to see what is going on, and every morning when I get up. And during the night I open my cellphone and check.”

Imagine that you have suffered a personal catastrophe, said Iryna Boutcha. At first, “all your close circle is around you. Time goes by and at a certain point you stand alone. This problem is still with you, but people are living their lives: this is the same feeling we have right now.”

Boutcha, president of the Ukrainian Congress Committee’s Nassau chapter, and Stepan Kunitski, the vice president, said that in the early days of the war, public support helped them send half a dozen trailers full of supplies. People eager to donate walked into the parish hall of a Uniondale church where the chapter meets.

But shipping was expensive and transit time across the Polish border was unpredictable. Now the chapter’s roughly 80 members focus on raising money. They declined to say how much but it has been enough to buy boots, uniforms and first aid kits, along with more specialized gear like drones and night vision goggles. Boutcha said the goggles helped a medical team in Bakhmut make evacuations under cover of darkness. Driving during the day or using headlights at night would have made them targets, Boutcha said. The chapter’s donations have also supported children orphaned by war and wounded soldiers, they said.

“It’s less than a drop in the ocean in this situation,” Boutcha said. “But they depend on us. We cannot stop.”

As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine grinds into its third year, whatever hope Long Island’s Ukrainians had for quick victory is gone. Instead there is sadness for friends and relatives who have been killed, frustration with the international community that they say seems to have forgotten them and a determination born from desperation.

“I still hope we will be able to win,” said Vladyslav Budash, a priest at Smithtown’s Resurrection Byzantine Catholic Church. “We don’t have a choice.”

By almost every measure, the war has created a rolling humanitarian disaster. The United Nations has confirmed at least 30,457 civilians killed or injured, including 587 dead children, mostly victims of explosive weapons the U.N. said were launched by Russian forces. Western officials have estimated that hundreds of thousands of soldiers on both sides have been killed or wounded.

More than 6 million Ukrainians are refugees, according to the U.N. Most are in Europe. Some are in the United States and dozens are on Long Island, home to about 13,000 people of Ukrainian descent. The World Bank last year estimated the cost of reconstruction and recovery at $411 billion over the next 10 years, not including what the Ukrainian government will need to meet basic needs like pensions and operating schools and hospitals.

In the last week, Russia captured Avdiivka, a strategically important city in Ukraine’s southeast, and The Associated Press reported that dwindling ammunition threatened Ukraine’s hold along the 620-mile front. Key U.S. aid from $60 billion supplemental funding bill is stalled with the House on recess. Without it, a senior U.S. defense official told reporters in a briefing this month, “We will see more civilians dying. And we will see Ukraine struggling to protect their critical infrastructure and their forward line of troops.”

The Priest

“In the beginning, it was a miracle that Ukraine survived, that we could stay and also push back the Russians,” Budash said. But after two years, “I don’t have the same bright and sharp feelings,” he said. “It’s not possible to be excited and nervous all the time, but I can’t say I am joyful. I am sad. War is still there and people are dying.”

As the second anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine...

As the second anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine approaches, Father Vlad Budash, who still has family in Ukraine, is shown at the Resurrection Byzantine Catholic Church, in Smithtown, where he serves as priest on Wednesday. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

Budash said he tries to talk every couple days with his parents, who are in their 60s and live in Chernihiv, in the country’s north. “They became in these last two years much, much older than they are in years,” he said. “My mom says to me we had an (air) alarm this morning, this afternoon, this evening. When you live in this every day, you don’t know — maybe you will die in one hour, maybe at night when you sleep. It makes life stressful.”

Budash said his parents have had no heat or electricity for much of the winter. In the last few weeks, he said, a Russian missile destroyed the grocery store near their apartment. In the fall, a missile destroyed the theater that was on the city’s main square.

Near the square is a park that Budash’s mother used to visit. The city’s residents set up a memorial to the war dead there and now she cannot bear to go. “She says to see all the pictures, the young faces, she cannot manage her emotions.”

The Refugee

“I had a good life in Ukraine, I was very happy,” said Anna Konovalova, one of 32 Ukrainian refugees in housing provided by the Sisters of St. Joseph in Brentwood. Konovalova fled her home city Dnipro in 2022 with her two children, 5 and 10: first to the Ukrainian countryside, then Lithuania, then Brooklyn before arriving in Brentwood on Christmas Eve, 2022.

“For one and a half years, I was alone here,” she said. She had problems with her son, who didn’t want to speak English and wanted to return to Ukraine, she said. In the beginning, she had trouble making rent and securing documents.

Anna Konovalova, formerly of Ukraine, inside her home in Brentwood, with...

Anna Konovalova, formerly of Ukraine, inside her home in Brentwood, with her children Herman, 5, and Diana, 10. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Life now is better in some ways. She has a job in IT, and her husband has joined the family. In Ukraine, he was commercial director at a factory; here he works outside, installing Internet connections. “He never worked like this before,” she said.

They have talked about moving into a home of their own, mostly for their children. “I want to buy a house that they live in and know it’s their home,” she said. “We want to live normally, do the best — we want (a) good future for our kids.” Long Island, she said, is “very expensive.”

When Konovalova thinks about the war, it is with dread. Her brother calls her once a month. His unit fought in Bakhmut, then Avdiivka. It had 100 soldiers when the war started. Now it has 30. “Sometimes he cries. He was my favorite brother who I love, who I spend all my childhood with … and when he call he said he’s scared, he just want to say he love us and miss us.”

 Sometimes, on these calls, Konovalova said he asks her to tell him about her life and her children. Sometimes he “just wants to say goodbye.”

Before the war: From left, Herman Konovalov, son; Ihor Konovalov, husband;...

Before the war: From left, Herman Konovalov, son; Ihor Konovalov, husband; Anna Konovalova; Diana Konovalova, daughter; Iryna Konovalova, sister-in law. Sept. 2020. Dnipro city, Ukraine. Credit: Konovalova family

“I couldn’t help him,” she said. “The only thing is to buy some clothes that he need. It’s very small. It’s all I can do.”

When Konovalova thinks about the end of the war, it is also with dread. “I don’t see a good finish. I think Russia will take a big part of Ukraine and occupy it. Russia will never stop. Now she will take part of Ukraine and in several years, try to take Poland or Lithuania."

She elaborated in an email: a negotiated peace that leaves Ukraine "without a large part of the territory, access to the Black Sea, and investment" would devastate the country, she said. "I want to believe in justice! I want to think that the Russian government will be stopped and forced to withdraw troops from our land, return prisoners, restore everything destroyed, and demine territories!"

The Nun

“These people were forced to leave everything behind,” said Sister Annelle Fitzpatrick, director of the refugee resettlement program of Sisters of St. Joseph, which in addition to the Ukrainians serves 12 Afghans who fled the Taliban.

The Sisters give their guests free housing for a year or more. Most programs offer three months, Fitzpatrick said. But it “takes at least a year to learn the language, to get a vocational skill, a credit rating, open a bank account and hopefully get their kids in school.”

The Sisters try to pair their guests with Long Island families who can “take them to ShopRite, take them to Walmart to get clothes, to the DMV to get an American license.”

Some need more: tutors, counselors. “Mental health is a major issue, much less finding someone who speaks Ukrainian, or Dari, or Pashto.”

While some guests qualify for government assistance, the paperwork takes time, and the Sisters provide for their guests in the interim. They have made ends meet, so far, with grants and donations.

“I could use a platoon of social workers,” Fitzpatrick said.

The Lawyer

“There are very few celebratory occasions” in a community that used to observe many, said Oleh Dekajlo, who lives and practices in East Meadow, and is past president of Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, a nonprofit organization advocating for Americans of Ukrainian descent.

“Everybody is focused on fundraising, memorials and support events,” he said. For Ukrainian expats and those like him who were born in the U.S. but keep close ties to Ukraine, “It’s on everybody’s mind. It’s the topic that gets discussed outside of churches, outside of Saturday schools” where young Long Islanders of Ukrainian descent learn their mother tongue.

Dekajlo said he believed U.S. support for Ukraine is critical — he spoke this week on his way to CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, where he hoped to enlist leaders for the cause.

But, he said, “I’ve been tremendously disappointed in the lack of resolve and commitment from both parties in dealing with horrendous oppression, using Ukraine as political capital, this pawn in a big game.”

Often, he said, the needed military aid seems to have “strings attached, because everybody’s trying to bootleg it for some other cause” like the war in Israel or the wall on the U.S.-Mexican border.

Meanwhile, he said, “People are dying. We’re actually talking about blood and guts.”  

The Pierogi-maker

“We try to make pierogi and sell them to help,” said Galina Onichtchak, a custodian in East Meadow’s Woodland Middle School who moved to the United States 29 years ago and lives in Bellmore. “In the beginning, we raised a lot.” But sales have fallen off. “Now people are not interested so much.”

Galina Onichtchak is Ukrainian-American, and is helping raise money for...

Galina Onichtchak is Ukrainian-American, and is helping raise money for Ukrainians still in their home country by baking and selling pierogis. Pictured here in Bellmore Thursday. Credit: Rick Kopstein

She found this confounding. “America helps a lot of different countries. Americans help, and they are supposed to help Ukraine too.”

What changed, she said, is media attention. “Americans were more interested when they see more on the television … I feel Americans can feel differently if the media shows destroyed towns, the kids that sleep outside when it’s cold, people that don’t have money or food.”

Onichtchak, like others interviewed for this story, said the war had turned her into a voracious consumer of news. “Every night when I go to bed I check the news to see what is going on, and every morning when I get up. And during the night I open my cellphone and check.”

The Organizers

Imagine that you have suffered a personal catastrophe, said Iryna Boutcha. At first, “all your close circle is around you. Time goes by and at a certain point you stand alone. This problem is still with you, but people are living their lives: this is the same feeling we have right now.”

Boutcha, president of the Ukrainian Congress Committee’s Nassau chapter, and Stepan Kunitski, the vice president, said that in the early days of the war, public support helped them send half a dozen trailers full of supplies. People eager to donate walked into the parish hall of a Uniondale church where the chapter meets.

But shipping was expensive and transit time across the Polish border was unpredictable. Now the chapter’s roughly 80 members focus on raising money. They declined to say how much but it has been enough to buy boots, uniforms and first aid kits, along with more specialized gear like drones and night vision goggles. Boutcha said the goggles helped a medical team in Bakhmut make evacuations under cover of darkness. Driving during the day or using headlights at night would have made them targets, Boutcha said. The chapter’s donations have also supported children orphaned by war and wounded soldiers, they said.

“It’s less than a drop in the ocean in this situation,” Boutcha said. “But they depend on us. We cannot stop.”

Diller case in court … Million dollar communities … WNBA draft Credit: Newsday

Teen pleads not guilty in gun case ... Diller case in court ... More chemical drums found ... 'Project Prom'

Diller case in court … Million dollar communities … WNBA draft Credit: Newsday

Teen pleads not guilty in gun case ... Diller case in court ... More chemical drums found ... 'Project Prom'

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