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Ukrainians in St. Louis fear for loved ones following Russian invasion

Tetyana Dyuk, 41, of St. Charles, waves a Ukrainian flag.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Tetyana Dyuk, 41, of St. Charles, waves a Ukrainian flag on Monday during a demonstration under the Gateway Arch on the St. Louis riverfront.

Yuriy Safronov isn’t new to protesting. In 1990, he joined the Revolution on Granite, a hunger strike in Kyiv in which he and other students called for multiparty elections and the resignation of the country’s Soviet-backed leader.

Safronov, of Ballwin, moved to the U.S. in 1993, following the collapse of the Soviet Union. But he maintains strong ties to Ukraine and went there a few weeks ago to celebrate his mother’s 80th birthday.

He returned to St. Louis over the weekend, just days after Russia invaded his homeland, and on Monday felt compelled to go to the Gateway Arch grounds to condemn the Russian attacks.

His mother and others enduring the invasion were foremost on his mind.

“She's not alone, but you have that guilt feeling leaving your mother behind,” Safronov said. “You have to choose to go and assign yourself to some kind of local military unit or go to the United States and do what I'm doing right now, collecting money and … hoping that somebody will hear me.”

Yuriy Safronov, 56, of Ballwin, holds a Ukranian flag.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Yuriy Safronov, 56, of Ballwin, rallies under the Gateway Arch on Monday while holding a Ukrainian flag signed by Ukrainian military members.

Safronov plans to protest on the Arch grounds every day this week. He’s among many Ukrainians holding protests and rallies to decry the Russian invasion. Many are attending prayer vigils, like the one held Friday at St. Mary’s Assumption Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, where congregants expressed fear for their loved ones and worried about the country’s future.

For Eugene Logusch, a deacon at the church who led the prayer vigil, the attacks by Russian forces bring to mind the stories his father told about life during World War II in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, then part of Poland.

“At 5 a.m., Sept. 1, 1939, he heard German aviation and the dropping of bombs,” Logusch said. “I can tell you that Polish people, especially the younger generations that have forgotten a lot of the difficult history between Poland and Ukraine, are very, very concerned and are very worried.”

Logusch’s family emigrated to the U.S. in 1949, but those experiences stayed with his family and many other Ukrainian Americans.

“We hope that the outcome of all of this is not as tragic as it could be, but it happened before,” Logusch said, adding that he fears Russian President Vladimir Putin could spark a bigger conflict. “The Warsaw Pact was literally at the borders of Germany, and a man and a government and a regime with such, let us say ambitions, so to speak, they will not stop at Ukraine. And it's sad that in the West, there's not a sufficient comprehension of it.”

Logusch said the St. Louis region would welcome newcomers escaping Russian forces who are continuing to move into the country. The church is one of many institutions to condemn Russia for its attacks on Ukraine, as did the International Institute of St. Louis. The institute said it’s prepared to welcome those from Ukraine.

Nataliya Ovod moved to St. Louis about 20 years ago from the western Ukraine city of Ternopil. She and her husband have several family members and friends who live in their homeland.

“I just spoke with my best friend, we've been friends since 3,” Ovod said. “She just tried to move her daughters out of the country, find housing for them, and then she'll be back in Kyiv to fight. I told her, ‘You didn't know how to fight,’ and she said, ‘I will learn because we are not giving our land away.’”

Calls for help continued Monday as delegations from Ukraine and Russia met in Belarus. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky expressed doubts about peace talks ensuing from today’s meeting.

Safronov said one of the best ways St. Louisans can helpis through financial aid and political action.

“Everybody can do something,” Safronov said. “You can send letters to your senator. To your Ukrainian friends, just tell them that you love them.”

Follow Chad on Twitter: @iamcdavis

Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.
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