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As a Russian invasion seems likely, Carnegie residents with ties to Ukraine worry about family

St. Peter & St. Paul Ukrainian Orthodox Church
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St. Peter & St. Paul Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Carnegie, Pennsylvania. Carnegie is home to a large enclave of Ukrainian immigrants and their descendants, many of whom have retained a strong cultural identity several generations after their ancestors settled in the area.

While making pierogi on Friday, Father Steve Repa of St. John’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church* in Mercer County, said he and his congregation discussed the increasing likelihood of another Russian invasion on their homeland.

“They said ‘We’re scared, we’re afraid,’” said Repa. “It’s so unpredictable. I suppose if you prepare for the worst, you can accept whatever happens.”

Repa’s parents immigrated to Chicago after World War II, he’s lived in western Pennsylvania since the 1980s.

“I have cousins who work at the airport [in Ukraine.] You think, ‘If they bomb the airport are they going to be OK?’”

The past couple of months have been agonizing for Pittsburgh’s sizable Ukrainian community, many of whom reside in Carnegie. This includes Oksana Kukhar, who immigrated to the U.S. in 2005.

“My grandma…has all her valuables and documents in one place,” said Kukhar. “You never know what will happen and what they will have to do.”

Kukhar says she speaks daily with family in Ukraine, which, in addition to her grandmother, includes her father, sister, and husband’s family.

According to Stephen Haluszczak, author of “Ukrainians of Western Pennsylvania,” the height of Ukrainian immigration to the region occurred prior to WWI. Many came to take jobs in the coal and steel mills, or work on the railroads. Others, like Repa’s parents, settled after WWII.

Haluszczak says descendants “have retained strong ties to the land and traditions of their ancestors through the generations with over 30 active Ukrainian churches, numerous community organizations, social events and support of causes benefitting Ukraine.

This includes George Honchar of Carnegie, who says he grew up speaking Ukrainian with his immigrant grandparents. Honchar continues to speak the language with his wife Svitlana, a Ukrainian immigrant who he married in 2017, and his daughter Eryna, who was adopted from eastern Ukraine in 1999.

“It’s so frustrating to not be able to do anything. If I were in Ukraine, I could be building arms so that I could fight these terrible Russians,” said Honchar, who is president of the Ukrainian Technological Society of Pittsburgh.

Currently, Honchar’s thoughts are with his stepson, Pavlo, who resides in the western Ukrainian city of Ternopil. “His large apartment complex has no bomb shelter.”

Hopefully, the worst won’t come to pass. If things are calm enough, Kukhar plans to take her daughters for a trip to see family this summer.

“I don’t see them a lot,” said Kukhar’s nine-year-old Victoria. “They live very far away.”

Corrected: February 21, 2022 at 9:59 AM EST
An earlier version of this story identified Repa's former parish, St. Peter & St. Paul Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Carnegie, PA, as his current parish.