Suncoast Ukranians support each other as fighting looms

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NORTH PORT, Fla. - The tense situation in Ukraine is hitting home here on the Suncoast for the thousands of local residents of Ukrainian descent.

Many are watching the events unfold from afar, as family and friends deal daily with the escalating situation.

At the St. Andrews Ukrainian Religious and Cultural Center, it's all anyone can talk about. It's become a sanctuary of sorts for the many of our neighbors coping with events which could eventually lead to an all-out war.

“We are devastated…heartbroken." Monday, North Port resident Halyna Lisnyczyj was busy making a traditional Ukrainian Easter bread called babka. Not just cooking, but coping too, with friends like Klara Szpiczaa.

The center is an even more important gathering place these days. "We gather here and exchange information. Those of us who don't have computers, or don't know. It's really a place to sympathize with each other about what is happening," says Szpiczaa.

With the rent events always on their minds, those like Maria Kompanijek are not far removed. "Many of us still have family there. We fear for them. We hope that they are alright."

The dough changes shape almost as quickly as the latest developments. Russian soldiers are now on the ground, reservists are being called in.

The concerns receive comfort here. "It's nice to have people to talk to that understand how you feel and we understand how they feel," says Kopanijek.

Communicating with those there and seeing the pictures of the struggle and standoff, many here are taken back to a place and politics the lucky ones they say escaped from. "We have lived under the Russian rule; my dad, my brother, my grandfather died under the Russian rule," says Szpiczaa.

They believe history will repeat itself if support doesn't come. "We are lucky to be here, but it all brings back memories and we know how it is going to turn out unless Ukraine is helped."

Hopefully the only thing rising soon will be the sweet bread, and not a bitter war. "We pray and we pray. The only thing we can do now it just pray," says Halyna.

And the community here continues to grow. It's believed that here on the Suncoast there can be more than 4,000 of our local neighbors who consider themselves of Ukrainian descent.