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Washington County nonprofits mobilize to help as Ukraine faces a sustained Russian assault.

COURTESY PHOTO: KOIN 6 NEWS - A rally was organized by the Ukrainian-American Cultural Association of Oregon and Southwest Washington in downtown Portland on Thursday, Feb. 24.

Ukraine nationals and those with Ukrainian heritage are watching Russia's invasion of their homeland with bated breath.

After weeks of tension and uncertainty, Russia invaded Ukraine last week. Russia unleashed air and missile strikes on cities and military bases, and ground troops moved in from the north, east and south of Ukraine.

And the conflict hits close to home. Nearly 20,000 Oregonians report Ukrainian ancestry, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, and over 25,000 Oregon residents report speaking Russian, Ukrainian or other Slavic languages at home. Portland is also home to the nation's only all-Russian FM radio station.

As countries and businesses around the world react to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin's aggression toward Ukraine, a democratic neighbor that was once part of the Russian Empire and later the Soviet Union, local organizations like the Beaverton-based Ukrainian-American Cultural Association of Oregon and Southwest Washington are providing relief and raising awareness about Ukraine's plight here at home.

In downtown Portland, the association organized "Support Ukraine, Stop Putin" rallies on Thursday, Feb. 24, and Saturday, Feb. 26.

The purpose of the rallies, said board member Tatiana Terdal, is to remind Americans that "Ukrainians are living this right now." Most American's don't know the details, but she and others with family and friends in Ukraine are constantly communicating online and seeing what's happening in real time.

"There is a real, brutal war going on in Europe — the worst since World War II," Terdal said.

The nonprofit also called for Oregon and Washington legislators and members of Congress to listen to the Ukrainian community's requests, posting a list of requests for Oregon and Washington's senators on its Facebook page, including implementing a no-fly zone over Ukraine to protect civilians from Russian bombs, implementing more sanctions on Russia and providing weapons to Ukraine.

The United States and other allies have since started doing more for Ukraine, Terdal said. Oregon legislators have also directly showed support for Ukraine and the local cultural organization.

"That is also extremely helpful, because we can share all these with our families in Ukraine to let them know that they are not alone," Terdal said. "The world is watching. The world knows what's happening, and that's very important for them."

The Biden administration has slapped major sanctions on the Russian government, financial institutions and oligarchs. Both the United States and several European countries have also pledged to supply Ukraine's beleaguered military, which has been resisting the advance of numerically and technologically superior Russian forces for the past week.

However, the United States and NATO allies have categorically ruled out military involvement of their own in Ukraine. White House press secretary Jen Psaki cautioned Monday, Feb. 28, that trying to enforce a no-fly zone in Ukraine would mean shooting down, or threatening to shoot down, Russian fighter jets and other military aircraft, potentially igniting a war that could turn nuclear between the West and a diplomatically and economically isolated but still very well-armed Russia.

The ruble has cratered since Putin announced his attack on Ukraine, which he has described as a "special military operation" to assist ethnic Russian separatists in Ukraine's southeast, late Wednesday, Feb. 23. Thousands of Russian citizens have been arrested for protesting the invasion, and many prominent Russian athletes, artists, actors, scientists and businesspeople have spoken out against the attack, risking the fury of Putin's autocratic regime. Even traditionally neutral countries like Austria and Switzerland have joined in imposing tough economic sanctions on Russia as a consequence of its aggression.

As events play out on the other side of the world, local groups are doing what they can to help the people of Ukraine as they weather Russia's assault.

Tigard-based Medical Teams International, a faith-based nonprofit, is raising money for partners on the ground in Ukraine and assessing its own ability to respond to the evolving crisis.

Spokesperson Karen Piatt said the organization is working with Integral Alliance, a group of small faith-based organizations around the world, to decide the best response to the emergency and the growing refugee crisis in the region due to Russia's invasion and attacks.

"Medical Teams will soon send a small assessment team into Poland to determine what the greatest needs are and how Medical Teams specifically can help," Piatt said.

Medical Teams will also provide a grant to Integra, an Integral Allice member based in Slovakia, which Piatt said is directly serving incoming refugees from Ukraine.

Since 2015, Medical Teams has regularly shipped medical supplies to Ukraine through its partnership with the Ukrainian-American Cultural Association.

Portland-based Mercy Corps is also working to send a team to the region to "assess where help is most needed," according to the nonprofit's website.

This is familiar territory for Mercy Corps. Following Russia's invasion and annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, Mercy Corps helped over 200,000 people with money, food, water and sanitation supplies.

Both Mercy Corps and Medical Teams are requesting donations online, and the Ukrainian-American Cultural Association shared a fundraiser from a sister organization in California.

Terdal said the fundraisers from the organization in California and from Medical Teams — which is providing supplies and funds to the cultural associations — are the best ways to support Ukraine immediately, given that Mercy Corps is still assessing how to help.

During the week of Feb. 28, Multnomah County's Morrison Bridge will display the colors of the Ukrainian flag — blue and yellow — to show support for Ukraine and the local Ukrainian community.

Gov. Kate Brown has also called for Oregonians to rally behind the Ukrainian community.

"Oregon will always be a welcoming place to everyone who calls our state home," she tweeted Monday. "If you can, support a Ukrainian-owned business today. To all Ukrainians, in Oregon and across the world, we are keeping you and your families in our hearts."

Brown added, "And please remember: the actions of the Russian government are not the actions of the Russian people. We value our Russian community here in Oregon, and many Russian families are being impacted by this conflict. As Oregonians, let's all unite together for peace."

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