In LA's Eastern European diaspora, solidarity for Ukraine

Russian Anastasia Shostak met Ukrainian Andrew Berezin in Los Angeles, thousands of miles away from their home. Their shared Jewish faith led to a friendship.

In LA's Eastern European diaspora, solidarity for Ukraine

They have even more in common. Both are working feverishly to get their families into Israel after Russia's war against Ukraine. Both turned out in their adopted home to protest the invasion over the weekend.

Los Angeles is home many people from the Eastern European diaspora. This includes Russians, Ukrainians. Moldovians. Georgians. Moldovians. Estonians. Lithuanians. In the wider community, the war that Russia sparked has evoked raw and hurtful emotions.

Berezin, a software engineer said that the community was united for many years by common bonds of faith and culture, but things feel "strange" lately.

He said, "We may not be from Latvia or Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, but we have always considered each other brother countries." Because of our shared heritage, we never considered each other to be separate. It feels like we are being forced to part. It's almost like "us" is against "them", and it's not healthy.

Berezin's parents and grandmother, 90, packed their treasured possessions and themselves into a small sedan. They drove 1,200 miles to Poland where they await paperwork to join their sister in Israel.

He was among hundreds of protestors who marched, waved flags and held vigil at anti-war demonstrations in Santa Monica and Hollywood on Sunday.

Shostak was one of the many Russians who protested their country's actions. Shostak and others expressed their dismay, sadness, and regret at the invasion.

Shostak, who runs a program called "Caring for Jews In Need" at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has relatives in Ukraine and Russia. She admitted she feels guilty, even though she has not seen President Vladimir Putin or the Russian government in person.

She said, "I know that (Russians & Ukrainians) are good friends but there is likely that deep down there's resentment at your country attacking mine country." "My country is the aggressor. It is important that I get out there and support my Ukrainian brothers, sisters and friends. It is important to declare that we are not enemies.

Shostak, like Berezin is concerned for the safety of her parents and is trying to get them to Israel.

There are also Russians living in the community that support Putin's actions. However, they tend to keep quiet about the matter, trying to avoid offending their neighbors, with whom they have been close over the years.

John Khrikyan, a worshipper alongside Ukrainians, and many of them are friends, stated in a telephone interview that Putin has every right to attack what Khrikyan considers to be an anti-Russian, corrupt government.

He said that Russia and Ukraine were historically one country, one culture, and one nation. "I believe Ukraine should be an autonomous country. We should be friends and not enemies.

Khrikyan stated, "I'm proud of being Russian."

Solidarity with Ukraine was the theme of Sunday at local churches.

A special morning service was held at Saint Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Los Angeles, where about 50 people attended. It is located just a few miles north of downtown LA. The worshipers were silent in prayer and some even shed tears.

Liana Ghica said, "I came to Ukraine to show my support." She wore the red, yellow, and blue of Romania for the occasion. "This isn't just about Ukraine, it's about the future of the world, freedom and future of our children. It's all about human rights.

The Rev. Vasile Sauciur condemned the invasion as "madness and evil" and said that the victorious Ukraine would be David.

"(Ukraine] doesn't have much but we have the right goal, the right motive," Sauciur said. Sauciur was born in Romania, has many Ukrainian relatives and is a priest from Ukraine. "I hope that our neighbors will support us, and keep in mind that this plague can extend beyond Ukraine. People who are good must defend what is right.

Many people at the service were praying to their loved ones who are serving in Ukraine's armed force.

Iryna Hettiman-Piatskova held her phone in her hand as she viewed a photo of her son wearing fatigues sent from the frontlines.

She cried, "My plea to the Russian mothers is to call their sons home to end the war," she said. "From one mother, ask your sons not to attack."

Natalia Blanco also recalled talking this weekend with her brother who is serving in the Ukrainian army.

She cried, holding back the tears, and said that he had told her he was trying to be strong but it was hard to see soldiers die.

Lana Worth, a Russian-American first-generation woman who has Ukrainian and Russian blood in her family, stated that she is torn and does not want to pick sides.

She asked, "Do you hate your right hand or my left hand?" "Our world is small. It is not possible to hate each other.

Demonstrators gathered at the Santa Monica protest in the afternoon, just blocks from the Pacific Ocean on Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade.

Katrina Repina held her baby girl in one hand, and a sign in another. It read: "I am Russian, I'm sorry."

She said, "I don’t support Putin." "I feel sick every time I read the news. "I feel the pain of the Ukrainian people and wish that I could take it away."

Repina was accompanied by Hanna Husakova (a Ukrainian) to the protest. They connected via Instagram and their common language and cultural bonds were stronger than any war between their nations.

"Katrina asked if I would like to be her friend. Husakova asked me if I hate Russians. "I replied, 'Absolutely no.' This is between governments and not people.

Jonas Gavelis is a Lithuanian-born native who moved to Santa Monica five month ago after winning the greencard lottery. He wore a T shirt with the slogan "I am not Ukrainian but support Ukraine" and he was concerned that fighting might spill over into other countries, and that his country could be next in Putin’s sights.

Gavelis stated that Ukraine has always supported Lithuania in times of need. "Now it is our turn to show support."

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