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Congressional stalemate over Ukraine funding drags on, local Ukrainians worry

Members of the refugee aid group Scranton4Ukraine gathered Feb. 24 to commemorate the second anniversary of Russia's attack on Ukraine
Olga Trushina / Submitted Photo
Members of the refugee aid group Scranton 4 Ukraine gathered Feb. 24 to commemorate the second anniversary of Russia's attack on Ukraine.

Congressional leaders and President Joe Biden talked about avoiding a government shutdown this week, but they also talked about more military aid for Ukraine.

When they emerged from the Tuesday meeting, Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson remained dug in against more help for Ukraine without a deal on controlling immigration first.

The meeting took place three days after the second anniversary of Russia's attack on Ukraine.

The congressional stalemate worries Ukrainian supporters who gathered Feb. 24 in Commonwealth Coffeehouse in downtown Scranton to commemorate the anniversary.

"This event just can't go unnoticed,” Scranton 4 Ukraine co-founder Alex Groysman said. "And with the local support diminishing through the months and years, I can't believe it's been two years now. But we have to keep the awareness going.”

Groysman was 10 years old when he and his family fled Ukraine in 1991, the year the country gained its independence. He never thought Russia would invade. 

“So when this first happened, it was a shock to all of us. And my brother and I were watching TV, and we couldn't just watch, we had to do something,” Groysman said.

So far, through three running races and other events, Scranton 4 Ukraine raised almost $30,000 to benefit Ukrainian war refugees.

The Commonwealth Coffeehouse awareness event drew fewer than 25 people so Groysman took heart in the ones who did come.

“It's nice to have people come out and just to see that there's still people out there who are more supportive of Ukraine,” Groysman said.

Olga Trushina wore a colorful headpiece called a vinok as she held her baby daughter, Mila.

Born in Ukraine, Trushina emigrated to Brooklyn in 1995 from Moldova where her parents moved when she was a baby. Her grandmother still lives in Ukraine.

Trushina won a Clarks Green council seat through a free and fair election last fall. It’s a concept local Ukrainians like Trushina know Russia avoids.

Two years into the war, she wants Ukraine to keep fighting.

“You know, in the beginning, the fervor of like fighting back the invasion, it kind of felt like we just have to survive,” Trushina said. “And then it kind of felt like, wow, we're pushing Russians away. So it felt like it was going to end soon.”

Looking back, she thinks the United States should have helped even more.

“We should have gave them the planes, we should have covered their sky, we should have done a lot more and this work could have been finished faster, before the Russians could have dug in in the East,” Trushina said.

She dismisses Russian propaganda about how a doomed Ukraine with many problems can’t win.

“But Russia is in the same, if not worse place. The only difference is that Ukraine is a democracy. So we know about all their problems,” Trushina said.

In Ukraine, no one represses speech, she says.

“But in Russia, you are not ever going to get a clear picture because everything is being, you know, pushed down, like no one is able to share their true concerns about what's happening inside the country,” Trushina said.

She expects the war will take another year or two. She wants the Ukrainians to fight to at least a stalemate. She hopes that will convince Russia to surrender as casualties pile up.

“They've sent almost half a million people to their death into Ukraine,” she said.

At a table near the coffeehouse’s window, 86-year-old Klara Gervits of Scranton ponders her past as talks about the present.

She wants the Russians gone.

The retired Everhart Museum bookkeeper grew up in an orphanage and lived decades in Ukraine when the Soviet Union, basically Russia, controlled it.

In 1989, she finally earned enough to pay “big money” --- her words for a bribe --- to get the necessary papers to get out. After seven months in Italy, she settled in Scranton. Watching the Russians invade hurt --- a lot.

“Oh my gosh, it's terrible. I'm praying every day for Ukraine to win. It's so nice. Pretty town, pretty people, nice people, kind people. I'm sick of that, what Russia’s doing. I never was thinking that Russia could do such things,” Gervits said.

She wants no part of a deal that would allow Russia to keep part of Ukraine.

“No, no, I don’t want the Russians to win,” she said. “I want them out. I want them out. I want them out. Badly, badly. I want them out.”

For that to happen, the Ukrainians gathered know the United States will have to keep helping. Groysman and the others are distressed that Congress is taking so long to come through.

“Yeah, it's very, very scary times now with the political, political climate and Congress, and with upcoming presidential elections, I think it's going to determine the outcome of this war,” Groysman said.

“And this is not going to stop with Ukraine. If Russia is successful there, they're going to keep going.”

Borys joins WVIA News from The Scranton Times-Tribune, where he served as an investigative reporter and covered a wide range of political stories. His work has been recognized with numerous national and state journalism awards from the Inland Press Association, Pennsylvania Associated Press Managing Editors, Society of Professional Journalists and Pennsylvania Newsmedia Association.

You can email Borys at boryskrawczeniuk@wvia.org