Ukrainians in New York reflect on first year of unprovoked Russian war; ‘Never united like now’

As the first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine approaches on Friday, Ukrainians in New York are reflecting on the past 12 months of events that have changed the world.

“It’s a sad, sad anniversary, it’s a sad day,” said Myroslava Rozdolska, who runs the New Wave Ukrainian Heritage School in Coney Island.

“It’s already one year — we cannot believe it. We thought after two, three months it will be the end of the war. But no, not yet.”

“One year ago I never thought that it would be so huge,” said Krystina Matafonova, 31, who moved from Mariupol to New York after the war began.

Many saw President Biden’s surprise visit to Ukraine on Monday as a harbinger of good things to come.

“Biden came to Ukraine — it’s a good signal, a message for the world,” said Dmytro Molchanov, 33, a nurse who lives in Coney Island.

“We believe it will mean some big change,” said Rozdolska of Biden’s trip.

“I’m really surprised to see Biden in Ukraine,” said Anna Shpook, 39, who lives in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn, who noted the length of the president’s journey from Poland to Kyiv — “the whole 20 hours of taking train there, taking 10 hours one way and 10 hours the other way.”

“U.S. stands for democracy and freedom, and for Zelensky it’s a big sign that the U.S. stands with Ukraine,” said Shpook, who works in finance. “It was so good to see my president Biden reaching out to my other president Zelensky.”

As Ukraine demonstrates its staying power and unity in the face of ceaseless shelling and atrocities, Ukrainians hope to reclaim regions previously seized and annexed by Russia.

“Ukrainians never united like now. Everybody tries to do something to help each other,” said Rozdolska. “We need to get back our occupied land.”

“I think I didn’t expect it,” Molchanov said of how the Ukrainians have been holding fast for a year.

“Unfortunately I was pessimistic, probably I think. Ukraine is still standing strong,” he said. “We’re fighting back, and I hope with the world’s and the United States’ support, we can take the whole territory that is occupied back.”

Ukrainian New Yorkers are keeping a close eye on developments in their hometowns and across the country, and are in touch with loved ones as much as possible.

Molchanov, a nurse originally from the Kherson region, noted that the violence continued even as Russian President Vladimir Putin gave a speech about the war. “My hometown was bombed by Russians. Five people were killed, 16 people were injured while he had his speech,” he said.

“My relatives are still there. Everyday we talk by social media and by messages, and it’s not safe,” said Matafonova. “Even in some safe neighborhoods, like in the west, it’s not calm anymore.”

“I was kind of numb and shocked, at that moment I worried about my family, my distant family,” said Shpook. “I worried about my cousins and kids of the cousins, and my cousin — he’s in the army.

“It’s not just the family — it’s the whole entire nation that’s in danger. Now I worry, but I learn to live with it. What else can I do? How can I help?”

“After year of war everyday we hope it will end soon as possible,” said Rozdolska.