'It tears me up': Milwaukeeans with Ukrainian ties say they feel helpless and angry

’It tears me up’: Milwaukeeans with Ukrainian ties say they feel helpless and angry

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- People in Milwaukee with ties to Ukraine say they feel helpless and angry as they watch the conflict unfold.

Minute by minute, Joseph Spolowicz watches the conflict unfold in Ukraine, knowing he's thousands of miles from his family and friends.

"It tears me up. It's gut-wrenching to know that they're going through some of this horrific kind of experience, and here we sit thousands of miles away not being able to do much of anything," Spolowicz said.

He said he was surprised the conflict came so quickly and said it's made him realize just how fragile democracy is.

"Freedom is the most precious thing, and you just don't realize how much you have had 'til you lost it," he said.

Spolowicz is holding tight to his community at St. Michael's Ukrainian Catholic Church, where he serves as parish council vice president.

He's also a liaison between Milwaukee and its sister city of Irpin, Ukraine -- about an hour from the capital of Kyiv.

"We've become friends with people in Irpin," he said. "It's difficult to see...It was pretty lively and has a lot going for it, and to see it kind of being squashed at this point."

Born in Ukraine, Solomiya Kavyuk is a member of the church and part of the Dnipro Ukrainian Dance Ensemble, which is based in Milwaukee.

"It's absolutely mortifying to see the airstrikes, to see dead bodies in the streets of civilians. I've never felt more helpless," said Kavyuk, who lives in Oak Creek.

Kavyuk moved to Wisconsin at age six, but it's weeks like these when she feels most connected to her homeland.

"If the people I love end up dying in this war in Ukraine, I'm not sure how I'm going to be able to live with myself -- to know that I am in a country where I can go to bed each night and know that I am safe, when I'm talking to my grandparents and they didn't sleep last night because they heard airplanes flying over the city all night," she explained.

Both Kavyuk and Spolowicz said there's no doubt who's to blame for the turmoil their loved ones now face: Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"I think it's important for all of us understand that this is not just about Ukraine. This is about who's next. How are we going to band together to stop a brutal leader?" Spolowicz said.

"I hope that it ends in peace. I hope that it ends quickly and swiftly and that (Putin) has to answer for what he's done," Kavyuk said.

Other families from the St. Michael's congregation are still in Ukraine now. The church is asking for prayers that they will be able to make it out safely.

To show that Milwaukee stands in solidarity with Ukraine, a rally is planned for Friday, Feb. 25 at 7 a.m. on Maple Street between Fourth and Fifth streets.

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