Ukrainians in Westchester Face Threat to Homeland, Families

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Russian tanks participate in joint military exercises with the Belarusian army along the border between Belarus and Ukraine as the Russian military buildup continues. (Getty Images).

On February 11, Petro Rondiak received a call from the US State Department. It was time for him to leave Kyiv (Kiev), where he heads the management board for a car importer, and return to the US, the caller said.

Instead, Rondiak, who owns an apartment in Tuckahoe with his wife, has hunkered down. He stocked up on diesel fuel and survival gear, bought a satellite phone and water filtration system, and is now working on getting a gun permit. And unless the situation gets significantly worse, he does not plan on fleeing.

“This is my home. For me to leave, I would have to feel actual danger to my life, which I don’t feel right now,” says Rondiak, who grew up in the US before moving to Kyiv in 1995. “It would send a really weird message to say, ‘See you later. I’m American, so I’m out.’”

His wife, Ola, meanwhile, has split her time between Kyiv and the US, where the couple’s three children, all in their early 20s, all live. Ola is currently back in Tuckahoe but plans to return to Ukraine as soon as early March, depending on the situation.

“It’s like a paralysis,” Ola says of being stateside while her husband is back home. “When you’re together, at least you’re together, and you’re going through the day. But now, there is a worry that you can’t do much about.”

Since the start of the crisis between Russia and Ukraine late last year, most of the estimated 10,000 Ukrainians living in Westchester have been forced to watch events unfold from afar, physically safe but emotionally anguished. Many, especially immigrants and children of immigrants, still have close family members in the country and go back frequently. The past several weeks, those spoken to for this article explain, have been spent continuously messaging with family and obsessively following the news.

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