On Thursday, Russia invaded Ukraine after building up troops and making inroads into a few breakaway republics after a few months, following 14 years of worry that Ukraine may join NATO.
While the war there is early and the situation is still playing out, including to what extent Western nations supporting Ukraine will do, and to what extent gaining control of natural resources in Ukraine played in Russia’s ultimate decision to invade, it’s effects have already been felt in the U.S.
Prices of many things are going up in response to the war, including oil, and setting new gas price records in California. The stock market has gone down in the last few weeks as a result of the building threats and ultimate invasion, and some businesses recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns may face a new financial hurdle as a result.
But at the human level, the Russian invasion is also being felt in the Ukrainian and Russian communities and through Californians with Russian and Eastern European ethnicity. Valentina Kovalenko, who moved to Los Angeles in 1993 following the breakup of the Soviet Union, was just one of many Ukrainians or Ukrainian-Americans who responded to the war on Thursday.
“I was in the equivalent of high school during the final days of the Soviet Union and the beginning of a new independent Ukraine,” explained Kovalenko. “It was very different what we learned in the two. In the Soviet class, it was all about how the Russians were the real masterminds. We had one lesson on what everyone else did, but the rest was how Hitler built up everything, invaded, broke an agreement with the Soviets, and continued invading. Each lesson was on a different battle against the Germans. Kursk, Stalingrad. Three on Leningrad. Barely anything on the UK or France or the U.S. Little on Japan except for the atomic bombs. Nothing on what Ukrainians did except a spotlight on how some collaborated with the Germans.”
“Then the same class when we became independent. Suddenly we began to see the war in other places. Until 1992, I didn’t even know Canada was in the war, or that Harry Truman was the President at the end of the war. It was still area centric, like any place covers the war, but we had lessons on the famine that the Soviets intentionally put on us just before the war, how Ukrainians defended their cities without Soviet help, and even lessons on Soviet war atrocities. In many cases, they were as bad as what the Germans or Japanese did too.
“I say all this because what Putin is doing reminds me so much of those lessons we had on Hitler. In the U.S. you learn appeasement and things like that in school, and that’s great, but we really went into what it meant for the Soviets step by step. And we’ve been seeing those steps for the last month.”
“It’s greatly affecting Ukrainians in Los Angeles. Many of us emigrated from Ukraine in the past 30 years, so many of us still have family and friends there. I’m worried about my mother in Kyiv, and a lot of us have been desperately trying to contact them. One I know managed to get his cousins out in time and flew in here last month and are trying to stay here permanently.”
The effects of the war on Californians of Russian, Ukrainian descent
Due to California’s unique status as an entertainment hub of the U.S., Californians of Ukrainian descent in the movie industry are utilizing unique contacts for aid.
“We do movies in Romania and other Eastern European countries all the time, since it’s cheap to shoot there and local extras are willing to do a lot for shoots,” said Eliza Maxwell, a Hollywood casting agent of partial Ukrainian descent who specializes in Eastern European productions, in a Globe interview. “Ukrainian stuntmen are of particular note, because they are all ex-military and willing to do pretty much anything.”
“Anyway, due to a lot of movies being shot in Romania, we have contacts there and we’ve been getting some Ukrainian film workers there to work on productions we have going since COVID restrictions allowed shoots to return last year. We knew of these problems building up, and being sent out of country with everything they own and with immediate loved ones, you know, many took us up on that.”
“We aren’t heroes for doing this at all, especially because we did really need them, but it’s less Ukrainians in immediate danger we helped out with. I feel a little proud that, just by talking on the phone at some office in Hollywood, we were able to get some families out of a now warzone only months before the Russians came.”
Russian immigrants have also been feeling the effects of the invasion in California.
“This is not my home countries finest hour,” said Oleg Volkov, a Russian who arrived in California in 1998, to the Globe. “Others I know here are also heartbroken by this. Putin, he is showing just how bad and ruthless he can be. When I called by sister in Yekaterinburg, she said she was ashamed of Russia for doing this and the sentiment is being felt by many Russians who did not want this.”
“Over here, I know some people who run a Russian goods importing company, and they are very worried that they will have to close down. It’s not only the stricter sanctions, which, honestly, are not doing much. It’s non-Russian American customers who will not want to buy from them anymore. I have not stepped foot in the country since 1998, became a citizen and I was still yelled at today as if the war was my fault too.”
“There’s many Russian Americans in California too. And it can be restaurants or businesses or even barbers. We’re going to see business go down as a result simply of ethnicity and ancestry. It’s already happening, as my friend with the importing company had several cancelled orders and several delayed shipments so far. And this is only the first day of the invasion. It will get worse from here.”
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