Members of the suburban Ukrainian community said Sunday they are sad, angry and fearful about the escalating political and military tensions between the Ukraine and Russia.
"I cry," said Mary Jaresko, a Ukrainian immigrant who attends St. Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Bloomingdale. "For days I have cried about this. Americans need to know what's going on there."
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Russian forces seized Ukraine's Crimean peninsula over the weekend, igniting fears across Europe and North America that war could break out between Russia and Ukraine.
Russia has said that its presence in Crimea is designed only to protect the Russian-speaking people who live there. But local Ukrainians said they have a different view.
"This is an invasion of a sovereign country," said John Jaresko, Mary's son and president of St. Andrew parish. "Protect the Russian-speaking people? There is no reason for that. No one is antagonizing them."
John Jaresko, who grew up in Wood Dale and now lives in Bloomingdale, said he believes the United States and its allies should take a tougher stance against Russia. He suggested financial sanctions and removing Russia from the group of industrialized nations known as the G8.
"The time for being 'deeply concerned' has come and gone," Jaresko said, alluding to the White House's initial comment about Russia's actions.
Jaresko, who like many local Ukrainians has relatives living in Ukraine, said it can be agonizing to follow the developments from so far away.
"You feel helpless, you feel a certain amount of guilt," he said. "The question so many of us are asking now is, 'What can we do?'"
Taras Konowal, a St. Charles resident whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from Ukraine, said he fears that Russia will soon invade Ukraine's eastern region, the part of the country his mother lived in.
"Every day now I get up at 2 a.m. to go online and see what the latest news is," he said. "My heart sinks every time."
Konowal said Ukraine is a beautiful, welcoming country. He said when he brought his children there not too long ago, they told him it "felt like home."
"That's how warm the people are there," Konowal said. "I was born here, my kids were born here, and yet they felt such a strong connection to Ukraine during that visit."
Hoffman Estates resident Jaraslov Sydorenko was born in Ukraine but came to America with his family when he was 2 years old. He said the United States should take steps to protect and preserve a 1994 agreement known as the Budapest Memorandum, in which Ukraine agreed to get rid of its Soviet-era nuclear weapons, and the other parties -- the U.S., Russia and the United Kingdom -- agreed to recognize and preserve Ukraine's sovereignty.
"We have this agreement, which Russia violated," he said. "The question is, what will the U.S. do about it? It's such a shame. All Ukraine wants is to remain independent."