Wisconsin Ukrainian community observes Independence Day as 6 months of invasion come to pass

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WISCONSIN (CBS 58) -- It may seem like it wasn't that long ago that we first heard about Russia's latest invasion in Ukraine, but Wednesday marks six months since fighting began.

Wednesday is also Ukrainian Independence Day. Ukrainian-Americans here in Wisconsin say they're hoping the conflict isn't being forgotten.

Since 1991, Aug. 24 has been the day Ukrainians celebrated independence from the now-dissolved Soviet Union, but Ukrainian-Americans say the normal parades and celebration just weren't the same this year.

"It seems like no one's celebrating and people I've talked to today have left big cities and went to villages just because all the uncertainties," said Wisconsin Ukrainians Inc. board member Valentyn Potapenko.

Potapenko and his son Eli sat at a bench in Hart Park in Wauwatosa Wednesday below a faded Ukrainian flag he helped raise with the mayor months ago.

"It's kind of been kind of forgotten in the last three months, but the war is still happening," said Potapenko.

He moved to America from Ukraine when he was 11, and when the conflict started he helped create Wisconsin Ukrainians Incorporated, a nonprofit supporting the war effort.

He says despite the decrease in media coverage, he's glad Americans, and our government, are still mostly in support of the war which really started in 2014 when Russia invaded Crimea.

"Ukrainian nation, Ukrainian people always felt that it should have been an independent state," said Dina Borysenko, an MATC professor and Ukrainian-American.

She said Independence Day is usually huge for Ukrainians.

"Obviously today is a sad, it's a sad celebration because this independence is being challenged, said Borysenko.

Which is why both Potapenko and Borysenko say they're hoping democracy prevails in Ukraine.

"I know that it's a matter of time before we win, it's just at what cost," said Potapenko.

"Ukraine is gonna win," chimed in Potapenko's son Eli.

"Ukrainians are fighting very, very courageously, not just for their own freedom, but just to prove that democracy can prevail," said Borysenko.

Officials with Wisconsin Ukrainians Inc. say their board is entirely volunteer, so all donations go to support the war effort.

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