The Georgia branch of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America (UCCA) was a community for immigrants to keep their culture and traditions alive. After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the organization has switched gears to give their full support to their home country.
“In one day, I had to learn how the world works, how volunteering works,” said President of UCCA Nataliia Onyskiv. “I would never think that something like this would be the topic of my knowledge, which is sad.”
The UCCA was founded in 1940 and is a national organization with local branches throughout the country. They are a formal congress of Ukrainian-Americans that focuses on education, empowerment and representation. Their mission is to unite and support the 1.5 million Ukrainians living in America. Today, the organization has turned its attention towards Russia’s devastation of their home country.
Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 and currently occupies major cities in the country. Russia has caused catastrophic damage to homes and infrastructure causing displacement of Ukrainians and the loss of their property and belongings.
“They can’t even get food, water and hygiene products because volunteers can’t get there,” said Onyskiv.
The UCCA has been doing everything they can to support those in Ukraine. The organization has been raising money to send to trusted foundations in Ukraine by taking phone calls to support Ukrainians in Ukraine and hosting rallies.
“There is also social work [involved] because people are trying to get their relatives here in America, and there is not active state of refugee here in America,” said Onyskiv.
However, Onyskiv can’t help but feel a sense of hopelessness.
“Being physically very far away there is not much we can do,” Onyskiv said. “Right now, we have centers where we collect [supplies], trucks that drive it to New Jersey and MEEST Ukraine will take those containers and ship them to Ukraine. However, it takes more time to ship something from America.
“Of course, we have rallies and the feeling of doing something and speaking out makes us feel a little bit better,” continued Onyskiv. “Because the worst feeling is not being able to help.”
Onyskiv has close ties with Kyiv, a city currently under Russian occupation.
“I used to live in Kyiv for six years,” said Onyskiv, who immigrated to the United States in 2014. “It is my second homeland after my native city. I have so many friends there.”
Her family resides in western Ukraine, which is not under invasion and is accepting refugees and sending aid back east.
“I don’t feel good just because my family is safe,” said Onyskiv. “We all share the feeling that Ukraine is our family and those children are our children.”
Ukrainian residents still have internet access and cell service to keep connected with one other and their relatives in America.
“There are several group chats where we support each other and call each other,” said Onyskiv.
Onyskiv pleads for an active refugee status to be established in the U.S. and that Americans keep supporting Ukrainians.
“If people come to America, open the doors, let them in,” said Onyskiv. “Also pray, spread the news, and donate. The support, it means so much to know that you are on our side. It’s huge.”
Onyskiv credits the ongoing support from her community and her faith that keeps her hope alive.
“We believe in good, in God, that we will win. Ukrainians have been fighting for freedom for centuries. It’s in our genes.”