Northeast Ohio's Ukrainian and Russian communities condemn Putin after Russia invades Ukraine

A Ukrainian woman holds her baby in a bus leaving Kyiv after Russian invasion begins.
A woman holds her baby inside a bus as they leave Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022. Russia launched a wide-ranging attack on Ukraine on Thursday, hitting cities and bases with airstrikes or shelling, as civilians piled into trains and cars to flee. [Emilio Morenatti / AP]
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Peter Teluk and his family live in Stow where his son attends high school, but the attorney lived in Ukraine for 25 years. His wife, Natalia, had recently returned to Kyiv and was staying in their apartment in town.  

On Thursday morning, at approximately 5:40 a.m, she woke to the sound of two explosions, Teluk told Ideastream Public Media.

“The Russians seem to be targeting military sites and command centers, but there were a couple (bombings) in Kyiv,” Teluk said. “And she’s especially in a panic right now because the mayor of Kyiv sent around a notification telling everybody to take cover, that they're expecting some bombings from the air. But she has moved outside of the city to our mutual friend’s house with food and everything.”

Russian military forces attacked Ukraine overnight, firing more than 100 missiles at Ukrainian targets, according to an official who spoke with NPR.

Teluk is in contact with his wife and said he's trying to keep everyone calm. They’ll plan an exit strategy if needed.  

“The rest of the world will now understand what we're dealing with. Putin has shown who he really is. And this idea that you can negotiate, coddle, you know, be nice to him. It just doesn't work. He is evil, he’s pure evil,” Teluk said.

A former senior advisor to the Minister of Economy of Ukraine, Teluk says the United States has not been “strong enough” when it comes to supporting Ukraine against Russian threats.

“I think America needs to show its strength and show its support to countries that truly do want democracy, that want freedom and that look to America to be that leader. Not to fight their wars for them, but to be that moral leader and to call out other dictators that want to infringe on those freedoms,” Teluk said.

It’s a sentiment shared by the Russian Cultural Garden of Cleveland’s Vice President Boris Vinogradsky, who said he’s extremely concerned about the Russian invasion.

“I think that Putin acts with impunity, and he is Hitler re-incarnate. And if we don't do enough to stop him quickly, we may end up paying a much higher price for freedom and for victory,” Vinogradksy told Ideastream Public Media. “I am certain that he will be defeated. The question is how much time will it take and how many lives will it take?”

“Putin is not Russia,” Vinogradsky said. “Russians are good people and Ukraine is a very beloved country. So, we have to survive this together.”

Cleveland resident Taras Szmagala Jr. chairs the board of the Ukrainian Catholic University Foundation, which supports the Ukrainian Catholic University. The first thing Szmagala will be watching as the situation unfolds is how Ukraine's allies respond.

“What sort of sanctions do we actually levy? And I think that will be very, very telling. Number two, what sort of price is Putin going to pay for his actions in Ukraine on the ground? He has overwhelming air superiority, but on the ground the partisan fighting that will result, really could inflict a heavy loss. And the question then becomes, does that create any discontent within Russia itself?” Szmagala said in an interview with Ideastream Public Media.

This war is not as popular in Russia as the Crimean annexation, according to Szmagala, who said he’ll be looking for domestic pressure against the invasion. Szmagala also believes Ukrainian pride has never been greater than since Putin took Crimea in 2014. With that said, he believes Putin miscalculated in his attempt to restore the Soviet Union.

"So, I don't consider him to be a great tactician. I consider him to be acting irrationally and whether that's due to an overgrown ego or being evil. I don't know,” Szmagala said. “But I do think that he's one of those leaders that comes along in the genre of a Hitler or a Stalin that will go down in the history books as such,” Szmagala said.

A narrative Szmagala said he tries to avoid and attempts to correct people on is that “this is not a battle of the United States versus Russia over Ukraine."

“What it really is a question of whether the Ukrainian people are free to make the right decision. If you look at this conflict from the viewpoint of the Ukrainian people and not from the viewpoint of some sort of geostrategic battle between the United States and Russia, the conflict looks very, very different,” Szmagala said.

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