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Ukrainians in Maine mark two years of war with resolve and a call to action

Yurii Saiko (right) with his daughter Sophia and wife, Svetlana, during a prayer at an event marking two years since the the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Saikos fled Eastern Ukraine in the early days of the war, and arrived in Maine a few weeks ago.
Ari Snider
/
Maine Public
Yurii Saiko (right) with his daughter Sophia and wife, Svetlana, during a prayer at an event marking two years since the the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Saikos fled eastern Ukraine in the early days of the war, and arrived in Maine a few weeks ago.

Several hundred people, including members of Maine's Ukrainian community, filled the pews at the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston on Sunday to mark the two-year anniversary of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

While some urged resolve and solidarity, others also expressed frustration and confusion at the congressional impasse over continued funding for their country's military defense.

Billed as a solidarity event and fundraiser for humanitarian efforts in Ukraine, the event featured song, prayer and testimony from Maine's Ukrainian community and their supporters.

Andrii Opalnyk, who moved to Maine from Ukraine eight years ago, said it was also an important opportunity to gather with fellow countrymen.

But he said he's concerned that some American politicians, by blocking military aid to Ukraine, are furthering the goals of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"I think people need to understand, if someone says, 'We should give up,' or, 'We shouldn't help,' that's Putin's words in their mouth," Opalnyk said.

From left: Lewiston mayor Carl Sheline, and event co-organizers Oleg Opalnyk, Andrii Opalnyk, and Alina Terzi observe a moment of silence.
Ari Snider
/
Maine Public
Lewiston mayor Carl Sheline (from left) and event co-organizers Oleg Opalnyk, Andrii Opalnyk and Alina Terzi observe a moment of silence.

If the U.S. does not continue to back Ukraine, Opalnyk said, people will begin to doubt whether they can trust America's promises.

At the urging of former President Donald Trump, congressional Republicans recently tanked a bill that would have provided additional military funding to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, and would have placed restrictions on immigration at the southern border.

Event organizer Alina Terzi said continued support from the U.S. and other allies is crucial, because if Russia prevails in Ukraine, she fears, it might not stop there.

"If Ukraine stops fighting, the war will continue. The war will continue into other parts of Europe," Terzi said. "Ukraine is like this big defense wall between Russia and the rest of the world."

Terzi estimates that since the full-scale invasion began, several hundred Ukrainians — including her parents — have arrived in Maine.

President Joe Biden is set to meet with congressional leaders Tuesday urging them to approve additional military aid for Kyiv.

Oleg Opalnyk speaks during Sunday's event. Since Russia's full-scale invasion, Opalnyk has provided apartments to dozens of Ukrainians fleeing the war.
Ari Snider
/
Maine Public
Oleg Opalnyk speaks during Sunday's event. Since Russia's full-scale invasion, Opalnyk has provided apartments to dozens of Ukrainians fleeing the war.