Chicago's Ukrainian Community Includes Many Who Escaped WWII; They See a Repeated NightmareBreaking News
tags: Chicago, Ukraine, World War 2
When the sirens sounded in the middle of the night, Olena Matwyshyn trembled so hard her parents couldn’t get clothes on the little girl — choosing instead to wrap her in a blanket before hurrying to the bomb shelter.
For comfort, little Olena clutched a teddy bear — "Misio" in her native Ukrainian. She still has the bear, although it is worn smooth from being "hugged and kissed," Matwyshyn said.
Matwyshyn, now 83, is reminded of that bear as she’s bombarded daily with news images of families — much like her own almost 80 years ago — picking through smoking rubble or tightroping over rivers on a plank bridge as they flee the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
"It’s horrible because I truly can identify with the families and the children … and the horror of it, and not knowing what tomorrow will bring. It’s awful," said Matwyshyn, a retired Sears executive who now lives in the Sauganash neighborhood.
Tears well and anger simmers among Ukrainians long settled in the Chicago area who thought stories like theirs might only be found in history books, faded letters or their own memories.
Luka Kostelyna, 91, has been glued to his TV set in his Mount Prospect home since the Russian invasion began in February, spending hours each day watching CNN and Fox News.
He’s frustrated at what he sees as a failure of American leadership to stand up to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"I wish we had [President] Ronald Reagan," Kostelyna said. "If he was president, things would have been much, much different."
Kostelyna, then 14, his father and pregnant mother fled western Ukraine in the early 1940s as the battle lines shifted in Europe and both the Germans and Russians occupied his homeland. Kostelyna’s father, a Ukrainian nationalist, feared being arrested by the Russians and sent to Siberia. The Russians had already shot the son of one of Kostelyna’s neighbors.