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Southwest Portlanders say family in Ukraine won't surrender to Russian force

Christine Pavlyk is losing sleep.

She and her husband have spent countless nights since late February staying up to communicate with family in Ukraine. Pavlyk's cousin and other family members are providing dispatches about their safety as Russian military forces destroy buildings and other infrastructure. Her husband Volodymyr's son, cousin and elderly mother are also in Ukraine. Often during their phone calls, Pavlyk can hear air raid sirens go off in the background of her mother-in-law's home near Kyiv.

"She's in an apartment. She's 83. She's by herself," Pavlyk said, her voice distressed but steady. "We do have family members there that would like to take her out of that apartment. She will not leave. When the air sirens go off, she goes into her bathroom and has a little space there to lay down and sit."

COURTESY PHOTO: ULANA SUPRUN - A train station in Lviv, Ukraine, contains supply stations set up by aid groups. Residents in Western Ukraine say more help is needed there, as many humanitarian aid groups are stationed at the countrys border. Volodymyr Pavlyk was born in Ukraine and grew up there. He moved to the United States as an adult in the 1990s. Christine Pavlyk's parents fled Ukraine during the formation of the Soviet Union, before she was born. They made it to a refugee camp in Austria before immigrating to America. Her mother now lives in Hillsdale. The Pavlyks met in Chicago and married 28 years ago. They now share a home in Southwest Portland.

Most of the couple's family members are near the capital of Kyiv, which has seen heavy shelling and weapons strikes, destroying several buildings and homes.

On March 9, the Associated Press and other news outlets reported on a maternity ward in Mariupol bombed by Russian forces. The attack wounded 17 people and killed at least one woman and her child. The following week, Russian military targeted a theater where children and other civilians were taking shelter.

The United States has responded to Russia's invasion of Ukraine by imposing heavy economic sanctions on Russia, banning most imports of Russian goods to the U.S.

"We are crippling Putin's economy with punishing sanctions that's going to only grow more painful over time with the entire NATO and EU behind us, and many other countries," President Joe Biden said on March 16, denouncing the actions of Russian President Vladimir Putin. By mid-March, the U.S. had already sent Ukraine more than $950 million worth of weapons and defense technology to help its military. President Biden said more aid would be sent, but warned, "This could be a long and difficult battle."

"I appreciate the United States rallying behind Ukraine as they have," Pavlyk said. "It's something we'll probably never see in our lifetimes again. It's a make it or break it moment for Ukrainians, democracy, freedom and all these symbols that we in the United States may take for granted."

While most Americans are relying on news outlets or social media accounts to keep up with the unfolding war in Ukraine, the Pavlyks have a much different reality. They've stayed up each night to connect with family members in Ukraine, nervously awaiting dispatches about their safety and whereabouts. Christine Pavlyk said among those she's been in regular contact with is her cousin, Ulana Suprun, an American-born physician who moved to Ukraine and served as the deputy minister of health under former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

Suprun and others told Pavlyk that while some international aid groups have tried to provide basic supplies and assistance in Ukraine, many are stationed at the country's border, away from the cities that have been hit hardest by Russian military attacks.

Much of the Pavlyks' family has been forced to leave their homes because they were either destroyed or unsafe, Christine Pavlyk said.

"Some of them couldn't sit in basements or bomb shelters anymore because they have little kids," she noted. "Women and children have moved out of the area, but the men are joining forces with either the military or the police … to protect the citizens from straight up atrocities that are happening there. Our media isn't really showing the terrorist acts that are happening against plain Ukrainian citizens."

Pavlyk said her husband Volodymyr's cousin is among those training fellow civilians on how to use weapons. His son has been helping retrieve food and supplies for those sheltering together.COURTESY PHOTO: CHRISTINE PAVLYK - A relative of Volodymyr Pavlyk trains a Ukrainian civilian on how to use weapons as part of Ukraines resistance to Russian forces who invaded the region in late February. Ukrainian civilians have stepped up in force to help counter Russian military efforts.

Despite all this, none of Christine and Volodymyr Pavlyk's family members have plans to leave Ukraine.

"It's the principal of the thing for us," she said. "That seems to be part of the plan, to get everybody to leave, much like the Soviet Union when the Russians pushed everybody out of their countries. They populated it with more pro-Russia type folks and essentially took over the territory. Our family loves Ukraine and will not leave until this war is over."

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