Ukraine supporters speak of loved ones at war during Garden City protest

Ukraine supporters in Garden City condemning Russian attacks on Ukraine and rallying for increased aid in front of U.S. Rep. Anthony D'Esposito's office. // Photo by Melinda Rolls/Long Island Advocate

By Melinda Rolls and Amanda Mechell

Yellow-and-blue Ukrainian flags flew above a crowd gathered in front of U.S. Rep. Anthony D’Esposito’s office in Garden City on March 9, rallying in support of increased aid to Ukraine. 

“Ukraine aid now, stop Putin,” the crowd chanted. Two years after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Ukraine’s ammunition supply is dwindling. 

The protest came after a month of delay in the House of Representatives to pass the Senate’s foreign aid bill, which would include $60 million in aid for Ukraine. 

Andrew Piddoubny of Wantagh, a rally co-organizer and president of the Ukrainian Bar Association, said he and other protesters are pushing for D’Esposito and all House members to help pass the bill. Members of the House can force a vote on the bill by filing a discharge petition, which requires the signatures of 218 House members, thereby bypassing Speaker Mike Johnson, a Republican who has stalled the aid package. 

“To the members of the House that are afraid doing so will lead to political repercussions, I urge them to go to Ukraine and see what real adversity looks like,” Piddoubny said in a speech to the crowd. 

D’Esposito, a Republican from Island Park who represents the 4th Congressional District, responded to the rally in a statement earlier this week: “Congressman D’Esposito has consistently supported sending aid to Ukraine and is currently working with a bipartisan group of lawmakers to pass the Defending Borders, Defending Democracies Act, which is a comprehensive plan to assist our allies in Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan while also ensuring America’s borders are secured.”

Several rally members, including Piddoubny, stressed the importance of backing Ukraine as Ukrainian Americans. 

“The dire need for aid has galvanized the Ukrainian American community here on Long Island and throughout the country,” Piddoubny said. “We realized just how important this is, and we need our representatives to represent us.” 

Piddoubny wore a vyshyvanka to the rally, a traditional Ukrainian embroidered shirt. “I got [the shirt] from my cousin,” Piddoubny said. “Although he was born and raised here, he went back to Ukraine when the war broke out to help with the defense efforts. He actually brought me this one from Ukraine.” 

Many Ukrainians believe a vyshyvanka can serve as a means of protection. “It has some folksy beliefs of protection for who wears it,” Piddoubny said. “So we wear it in solidarity with Ukraine in the hope that some of that protection covers them as well.” 

Andrew Piddoubny is calling on Congressman D’Esposito to help pass a bill for Ukraine aid. // Photo by Melinda Rolls/Long Island Advocate 

Claudia Borecky of Merrick, president of the Bellmore-Merrick Democratic Club and director of LI Clean Air Water and Soil, was another co-organizer of the rally. As the widow of a Ukrainian American, Borecky said the war in Ukraine is close to her heart. 

“I do this because I feel my husband’s watching,” Borecky said. 

According to Borecky, almost all rally attendees had relatives or people they know fighting in Ukraine, making the delay in aid especially worrisome. “I have a godson who went there to fight, an American-born Ukrainian godson, and they’re rationing bullets,” she noted. 

Claudia Borecky has a godson fighting in Ukraine and is the widow of a Ukrainian American. // Photo by Melinda Rolls/Long Island Advocate 

Oksana Fedorchuk, from the city of Chernivtsi, in the western region of Ukraine, also attended the rally because of her connections to the war. The Lindenhurst resident said her brother, Viktor Lebediev, has been fighting in Ukraine for two years. 

Initially, Lebediev tried to discourage his sister from watching news coverage of the war. “It’s very hard for my family,” Fedorchuk said. 

One way Fedorchuk supports her brother and other Ukrainian soldiers is by sending care packages. Fedorchuk and her friend Olha Panchuk baked 100 boxes of cookies to sell on Long Island to fundraise for items to send to the soldiers. 

At left: Olha Panchuk, left, and Oksana Fedorchuk outside of D’esposito’s office on March 9. // Photo by Amanda Mechell /Long Island Advocate 

At right: Cookies that Olha Panchuk and Fedorchuk baked to raise money for care packages for Ukrainian soldiers. // Photo courtesy Olha Panchuk

Panchuk is a resident of Smithtown, and is originally from the city of Ternopil on the western side of Ukraine. Panchuk’s sister and other family members are still in Ukraine. 

Panchuk’s husband, Paul Panchuk, lost a cousin, Gregory Ravlyk, in the first month of the war. Ravlyk had moved back from Germany to protect his country and was killed in a car explosion. 

“It’s like a scary movie that keeps going and going,” said Olha Panchuk.