Sarasota County has a large Ukrainian contingent—particularly in North Port, where Ukrainians account for roughly 5 percent of the population.
Olga Klothakis, 62, is one of them. She has owned the Kiev Deli on Cattlemen Road in Sarasota for the past decade, but lived in Ukraine until she was 20, then moved to Moscow to work in the Russian military before emigrating to the United States.
Now, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which began on Thursday, she's worried about her daughter, son-in-law and their three children, who live in Ukraine and can’t evacuate and leave behind a family member who is hospitalized with cancer.
She says people from both Russia and Ukraine are coming into the deli daily to offer hugs and lend support.
“No matter what’s happening, we don’t have bad feelings for each other,” she says.
Where her daughter lives in central Ukraine, “it's not so bad yet," Klothakis says. But the cities of Uman and Cherkasy, just 30 kilometers away, have been bombed.
“They're scared. It's an aggressor coming to your country and bombing it all over,” she says.
Zelensky stays in #Kyiv— NEXTA (@nexta_tv) February 25, 2022
He recorded a video on Bankova Street along with other statesmen of #Ukraine.
Thus, he refuted the misinformation of Russian propagandists about his alleged escape from the city. pic.twitter.com/py587WDK8Q
So far, the U.S. is responding to Russia's invasion with sanctions, with other European countries taking similar actions. But Klothakis hopes to see the U.S., NATO and Europe send troops to protect Ukraine. “Just this morning, the Ukrainian president was begging for help,” she says. “This won’t stop at Kyiv. Europe has to defend itself. It looks like the 1940s is coming [again]. This will affect everyone.”
On Monday, Russian president Vladimir V. Putin recognized the regions in east Ukraine—the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic—as independent states, telling the world they were no longer part of Ukraine.
On Thursday, he ordered troops into the two regions in what he said was an attempt to maintain peace. The Russian government claimed its reason for invading was to protect Russians in those regions from genocide and the "neo-Nazis" controlling Ukraine's government. Russia also said it would engage in peace talks only when Ukraine stopped fighting.
“The pretext Putin is using [to invade] isn't true,” Victor Lisnyczyj, the president of North Port's Ukrainian Religious and Cultural Center, says.
Tensions between the two countries aren’t new. Lisnyczyj, who came to the U.S. when he was four years old, tells of another genocide he says isn’t often remembered—this one in 1933. “Both of my parents survived World War I and Stalin's famine-genocide in 1933 that was imposed on Ukraine by Russia. Millions died.”
“People are suffering and going through this for no good reason,” he continues.
A rally in support of Ukraine is scheduled for tonight from 5 to 6 p.m. at the corner of U.S. 41 and Biscayne Drive in North Port.
There’s also a concert at St. Andrew’s Ukrainian Cultural Center at 5 p.m. this Saturday where the band Trioda, a trio from Ukraine, will perform. Presented by the Revived Soldiers Ukraine, proceeds from the concert will go toward medical expenses for wounded Ukrainian soldiers.
St Andrew’s Ukrainian Church Cultural Center is located at 4100 S. Biscayne Drive, North Port.