As Ukrainian Americans Mark 1 Year Since Russia Invaded, Their Passion for Their Country's Freedom Only Grows
Many Ukrainian Americans who are passionately contributing in any way they can to their motherland’s resistance against Russia’s invasion.
The pressure was on. Irene Bubis needed to figure out how a platoon stranded outside Odesa, Ukraine, could move to safety before being found by their enemy: the Russians. The soldiers had with them Elon Musk’s Starlink, which had been donated by a civilian, but no cables to actually connect to the internet. “Without the Starlink in Ukraine, they were literally … sitting ducks,” she tells Inside Edition Digital. So Bubis used her considerable contacts and connections as both an activist and expert in information technology to get the military unit plans to make the piece they were missing. And she did it from her 400-square-foot studio apartment nearly 5,000 miles away in Manhattan. New York.
Bubis is one of the many Ukrainian Americans who are passionately contributing in any way they can to their motherland’s resistance against Russia’s invasion. Friday marks one year since the start of the war, but the grim anniversary only serves as a reminder to those with connections to Ukraine that endurance is important and their support is more vital than ever. “They're taking a stand for all of us, in a sense,” Jason Birchard, owner of Manhattan-based Ukrainian restaurant
Veselka, tells Inside Edition Digital. “They're fighting for democracy.”
The fight, experts in the U.S. say, is nowhere near over but has reached a pivotal moment. CIA Director William Burns said earlier this month that the next six months would be "critical" in Ukraine. It’s in this time period that Russian President Vladimir Putin may try to take advantage of an assumed waning in Western interest in the war, as well as overall fatigue with the ongoing conflict.
“Putin, I think, is betting right now that he can make time work for him," Burns said, according to CBS News. "The key is going to be on the battlefield in the next six months, it seems to us.
"Puncturing Putin's hubris, making clear that he's not only not going to be able to advance further in Ukraine, but as every month goes by, he runs a greater and greater risk of losing the territory that he's illegally seized from Ukraine so far," he said. "So this next period, I think, is going to be absolutely crucial."
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has continued to ask for aid from his allies in America and Europe.
In early February, Zelenskyy met with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and King Charles in England, where he also pleaded with Parliament for fighter jets and supplies.
“The King is an air force pilot. And in Ukraine today, every air force pilot is a king,” Zelenskyy said.
Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian’s people’s unwavering passion for their country and fight to win the war against Russia has inspired many, including Bubis, who says she believes what’s currently happening will one day be referred to as “Ukraine’s foundation story.”
“Thirty years ago they did gain independence, but I think still a lot of the communist kind of ideals were still there. The people that were in power were still part of the old school kind of way of thinking. And as it's grown over the last 30 years, now you have people in government that were born at the time that Ukraine became an independent nation,” she says. “So Ukraine's unification story, I think, is now… Now that they've been attacked, unfortunately… it has bred so much solidarity within the residents of the country.”
Bubis was born in Odessa, Ukraine, and immigrated to Brooklyn, New York, when she was one, leaving behind many family members who still lived in Ukraine at the time of the invasion. Bubis sprang into action to help her loved ones out of Odesa.
“My mother's friends were trying to evacuate, and she was trying to help them. And I was like, ‘Mom, just let me do this because (it’s going to take) the internet, I got this,’” Bubis, an expert in IT, explains. “So I started helping them evacuate, and I got them out to Moldova, and then I realized I could help people evacuate. So I started doing evacuation efforts with a couple of other charitable organizations, mostly religious ones within the country.”
Thus far, Bubis’ efforts with the organizations she has worked with have helped evacuate over 35,000 people from Ukraine.
She eventually founded Blue Rose, her own organization that works with religious groups to not only help people out of Ukraine, but also transport supplies into the country. Blue Rose also provides aid to those remaining in Ukraine.
“So once the evacuation efforts we were doing were bringing people out of Ukraine, we also realized we have empty buses. So then we started shipping stuff into the country because, why are we bringing in empty buses? That makes no sense. So that's where the supplies started, the entire logistics of bringing in supplies,” Bubis says.
She arranged for a private jet filled with donated baby food, military equipment, medical supplies, bulletproof vests, helmets and radios to travel to Poland. From there, the supplies were driven into Ukraine. Bubis and the charities also helped set up three rape clinics.
“I really did anything and everything that I could, depending on what the needs were at the time, and they were varied,” she says.
Donations have also poured in for Ukraine thanks to the work of Veselka, a staple in Manhattan’s East Village. The restaurant’s owner, Jason Birchard, is the third generation to run the Ukrainian eatery, but his ties to the country that inspired his restaurant’s renowned dishes are as strong as ever.
“Myself and a lot of the Ukrainian staff here were very shocked, distraught” after Russia invaded Ukraine, Birchard tells Inside Edition Digital. Birchard, through Veselka, quickly organized with charities and religious groups in the East Village to collect donations to send to Ukraine.
“The community came together, and people came out in droves to support Ukrainian businesses, and we're very grateful that we have a longstanding history here in the East Village,” he said. “So, it's been two-sided, and it's very stressful and emotional to think what's happening back in, what we'd call, our motherland, for a lot of us here. But people have been coming out, and the staff continue to come to work, and we're very thankful and grateful for all the support that the neighborhood and the community gave us.”
To continue supporting Ukraine, Birchard turned his restaurant’s signature borscht, a sour soup made with beets, into a symbol of charity.
“Shortly after the war began, borscht was rewarded or assigned the UNESCO Heritage Dish of Ukraine. It was made there several hundred years prior to any Russian claim,” he tells Inside Edition Digital. “I've earmarked all the sales of our Ukrainian borscht, whether you ate it here or takeout or we shipped it– we ship across the country with GoldBelly– that all of our sales would go to help humanitarian relief efforts.”
Veselka’s borscht sales have led to more than $250,000 in donations to Ukraine. “That's a lot of Borscht!” Birchard says.
Like Birchard’s utilization of his culinary skills to make a difference, Gogol Bordello singer and band leader Eugene Huntz’s activism shines through his innate talents.
Hutz, who formed his punk cabaret band in New York in the late 1990s, immigrated to the U.S. when he was a teenager. Hutz, who was embedded in Kyiv’s underground punk scene as the Soviet Union was crumbling in the late 1980s, quickly found the punk scene in Burlington, Vermont, when his family moved here as refugees.
“Punk rock is a music that makes the difference,” he tells Inside Edition Digital. After moving to New York, Hutz took the foundation of punk and mixed it with Eastern European traditional sounds.
Hutz proved his actions are rooted in activism once the world became aware of the invasion of Ukraine. Having seen images of the bombing of Kyiv, Hutz wasted no time organizing benefit concerts in New York City to raise money for Ukraine. He also began donating proceeds from his band’s merchandise and concert tickets to help the war effort. And when the opportunity presented itself, Gogol Bordello went to Kyiv to perform for Ukrainians in person.
“But the collective energy of the whole event, and going there, and playing on a base and refugee hubs transformed and gave more of a confidence that it's all turning around into Ukraine's favor,” Hutz says. “I'm still obviously processing all those emotions that go through it, because I also didn't sleep for 50 hours when we got there.”
The performances went off without a hitch, and despite hearing sirens and bullets in the not-too-distant areas, the audience was joyful.
“There was a lot of smiles, there was dancing,” he says. “Some of them were just still on their duty and holding the armor and arms and right there, just right in the front of the band and just bouncing with it. And some knew songs, some didn't. That was irrelevant. It was all about unity,” Hutz says. “I think that probably one of the things that ultimately I ever felt like that really was a big payoff for me as a songwriter or a performer, is those guys requesting particular songs and knowing some of them.”
Still, to say Hutz is worried would be an understatement. He has many relatives still in Ukraine. His young nieces who live there now know how to take apart and put together guns in under a minute. But he believes in the cause and his people’s resiliency. This “actually the most efficient I've ever seen Ukraine,” he says.
Hutz sees the war as a wakeup call for the world.
“You don't go and take somebody's s***. There's going to be repercussions,” he says. “[Russia is] getting their lesson taught now… it's not really (just a) war of Ukraine with Russia, it's war of future mentality and the past.”
Hutz, Bubis and Birchard all agree they hope the war ends soon, but also hope the rest of the world realizes that this isn’t just a Ukrainian issue.
“We have to draw the line in the sand here,” Birchard says. “What's next if we don't support Ukraine? And to really think about that, did we not learn lessons from World War II and the Holocaust? It's horrific what's happening. Please keep that in mind.”
“You may think that it's not your fight to fight, but tomorrow you will be living in the world that is a result of how this is going to pan out,” Hutz says. “You will not be living in the world that's going to be free of results of this fight today. It's a world-defining moment.”
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