Photo depicting the exterior of the Ukrainian Community Center of Washington where a white banner with blue text that reads "Ukrainian Community Center" hangs out front.

Members of Skyway’s Ukrainian Community Center Among Millions Impacted by Ongoing War

by Elizabeth Turnbull

The Seattle Globalist was a daily online publication that covered the connections between local and global issues in Seattle. The Emerald is keeping alive its legacy of highlighting our city’s diverse voices by regularly publishing and re-publishing stories aligned with the Globalist’s mission. 

One week after Russia began its recent invasion of Ukraine, roughly 1 million Ukrainians have fled the country, and Seattle residents from Ukraine are among the millions more who are dealing with the emotional and personal effects of the war.

“We wake up, and the first thing we do is check to see if our hometowns are still there,” Yuriy Zaremba, a community organizer, told the Emerald. “The fog of war is setting in, and we do have a lot of family out there. So we’ve just been trying to make sure that they’re okay.”

As part of his job as the director of the Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce and as a community advocate with the Ukrainian Community Center of Washington, located in the Skyway-West Hill community, Zaremba is aiding in the community center’s efforts to help local residents from Ukraine — and even some who are still overseas — bring their loved ones to the U.S. 

Personally, he struggles to get more than limited information on how his own family is doing, because they are afraid of their messages being tracked and any dangers that may accompany that. 

In January, thousands of Russians and hundreds of Ukrainians arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border to attempt to enter into the U.S. Following Russia’s recent attacks, Zaremba says he and others at the community center are now working to petition for asylum for Ukrainian refugees at the U.S.-Mexico border and seeking State-sponsored funding to help these refugees cover their legal costs. 

As more and more Ukrainians need refuge from the war, President Joe Biden announced on Thursday, March 3, that he would pause deportations to Ukraine and he will grant Ukrainian refugees “temporary protected status in the U.S. for the next 18 months. 

In the Emerald City, Ukrainian community members, protesters, and allies have been making efforts to protest and show solidarity with the Ukrainian community. Local businesses have added menu items to fundraise support for those impacted by the war, and officials have put the blue and yellow colors of the Ukrainian flag in prominent places, such as the Space Needle and the Seattle Great Wheel.

Hundreds of people showed support for the Ukrainian people by marching from Seattle City Hall to Seattle Center on Saturday, March 5, 2022. (Photo: Susan Fried)

In the midst of public support, Zaremba says he has seen many in the Ukrainian community who are experiencing PTSD and mental health problems. During such a time, it may seem difficult for friends and community members to know the best way to reach out or show support on an interpersonal level. 

Zaremba’s advice is to let friends and colleagues know you are there for them, while also giving them space to process, and to not ask too many questions.

“Anytime you ask about it, people will get teary-eyed. And that’s not necessarily always a relief, right. It’s trauma that they’re going through,” Zaremba said. “So just be sensitive to that. Don’t ask too many questions. But let people know that you’re there for them.”

Most recently, Ukraine and Russia have reached a “tentative agreement” to create cease-fire zones where civilians can evacuate and the humanitarian workers can deliver food and other aid to those in need. 

Following a conversation between Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron, it appears Putin does not intend to pause the attacks, leaving France to speculate that Putin is looking to seize control of the entire country.

For a proportionately small country like Ukraine, and for the people who have called it home, the fear of losing their country and its identity carries many repercussions. 

“If Russia stops, the war ends. But if Ukraine stops fighting, Ukraine as a country ends — Ukraine as a democratic, sovereign nation, and fighting for the principles that every American likely holds dear: life, liberty, pursuit of happiness,” Zaremba said. “If you look at Russia-inclined governments and countries, [protesters are] getting imprisoned by the thousands for coming out in demonstrating. That’s not liberty. And that is exactly what Ukraine is trying to decouple itself from.”

As the humanitarian crisis in the country continues to worsen, Zaremba suggests that people who want to help civilians should donate to small or medium-sized nonprofits, such as Mission of Mercy Ukraine, where the Ukrainian Community Center is currently donating the funds it receives.

Elizabeth Turnbull is a journalist with reporting experience in the U.S. and the Middle East. She has a passion for covering human-centric issues and doing so consistently.

📸 Featured Image: The Ukrainian Community Center of Washington located on Martin Luther King Jr Way. (Photo: Alex Garland)

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