Binghamton’s Ukrainian community reacts to attack unfolding in Europe

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The Sacred Heart Ukrainian Catholic Church in Johnson City will hold prayer services for peace at 6 p.m. on Friday and 5 p.m. on Sunday. (Jillian Forstadt/WSKG)

BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG)—Taras Kostyk has spent much of his life between Ukraine, where he was born, and New York. Kostyk and his wife moved to Binghamton after a few years in Kyiv.

They have family there now, an hour outside Ukraine’s capital city. He spoke to his in-laws as Russia began missile strikes early Thursday morning.

“They said that they woke up to a couple loud bangs of ammunition,” Kostyk said.

Kostyk spent the days before the invasion not wanting to believe a large-scale attack could occur. Now that it has, there has not been much he can do from the United States but stay in touch.

“You kind of tell them that you love them and to stay safe, and you hope that everything’s okay,” he said. “That they’ll be okay in this state. I think my wife recommended for them to go towards the border of Poland.”

Poland is to the west of Ukraine, where Kostyk hoped his in-laws could seek safety.

New York has the largest Ukrainian population in the United States, and Kostyk is among many members of the Southern Tier’s Ukrainian community reacting to the events unfolding in Europe.

Many Ukrainians resettled in the Southern Tier after World War II by way of German displaced persons camps.

Stephan Wasylko, who lives in Endicott, was one of them. As a young child, he and his parents crossed through the German port city of Bremen to get to the United States, and eventually resettle in central New York.

“And in many ways, much like parts of Ukraine,” Wasylko said. “That’s why a lot of the Ukrainians settled here. Because of the green hills, and the community that was here since the turn of the century.”

Wasylko said when Ukraine was under Soviet rule, his parents weren’t allowed to speak Ukrainian at home.

“They risked their lives coming to this country for everything, to live the American dream, to be free, to be able to exercise your traditions and your customs, to speak your own language in your house without any interference,” he said.

With Russia’s ongoing invasion, Wasylko worried his relatives in Ukraine will see those freedoms denied.

“Are we going to have a chance to go back and see them? Visit with them?” he asked. “Now is the time when we were hoping they’d be coming, traveling here, visiting us.”

To many Ukrainians and Ukrainian Americans, the conflict with Russia isn’t new. Wasylko said he saw it as an extension of the war going on since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

But now, he continued, Ukraine has the world’s attention. The U.S. and European allies have also issued sanctions against Russia.

Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a statement Thursday that the state is ready to welcome refugees fleeing Ukraine.

“We remain engaged with the Biden Administration and we will be prepared to accept and support those who seek shelter in our state,” Hochul said.

Multiple Ukrainian churches throughout the Southern Tier will have prayer services for peace this weekend. The Sacred Heart Ukrainian Catholic Church in Johnson City will hold its services at 6 p.m. on Friday and 5 p.m. on Sunday.