For many Minnesotans the events in Ukraine are not images on a television screen; there’s a much greater familiarity.
The state is home to some 17,000 Ukrainian Americans, many who have family and friends still in their native country, which in the midst of a bloody invasion from Russia, dictated by Russian President Vladimir Putin. For them, the invasion is at the forefront of their hearts and minds.
“It’s scary,” said Michael Frants, a resident of Brooklyn Park. “We have relatives in Ukraine and they are being forced to take up arms and fight. This is scary.”
Frants said his girlfriend’s brother, who lives in the Odesa province, has to meet later today to pick up arms that are being provided to citizens by the government. Ukrainian men ages 18-60 are not being allowed to leave the country.
Another relative sent a message on social media that was as short as it was ominous.
“We are at war,” the message read.
Born in Kyiv when it was still a part of the Soviet Union, Frants came to the United States when he was just 7 years old, but he has maintained a close eye on the politics of the region.
“What’s going on is you have a dictator (in Putin) that longs for the days of the former Soviet Bloc, and Ukraine can potentially become a thriving democracy and that’s a threat to him,” Frants analyzed. “It’s a threat to him because while you have the oligarchs in Putin’s inner circle with their lavish mansions and yachts, you also have kids in Russian villages who have to go outside to use the bathroom.”
Though sanctions have been imposed on Russia by the U.S. and other nations, Frants said that does little to stop Putin. He said the United States and the U.K. should be doing more under the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances. Under that 1994 memorandum, Ukraine agreed disarm itself of nuclear weapons, with assurances that no signers of the agreement – Russia being one – would attack Ukraine, and that other signers would provide protection against any aggressors. At the time, Ukraine had the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world.
Thursday more than 100 people gathered outside of St. Constantine Ukrainian Catholic Church in Minneapolis to show their support for the people of Ukraine. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey told those who gathered peace must prevail, but it will take action.
“Now is the time to stand up for peace. Now is the time to stand up to the tyrant that Putin has been,” said Frey.
In another sign of solidarity, the lights that illuminate Minneapolis’ Lowry Avenue Bridge will do so throughout the weekend in blue and yellow — the colors of the Ukrainian flag.
Editor’s Note: The earlier version had a different spelling for Kyiv. The original spelling was of the Russian spelling, and not the Ukrainian spelling.