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Ukrainian Michiganders watch as tensions rise in homeland

Russian invasion possibly imminent, officials say
Posted at 7:58 AM, Jan 31, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-31 08:20:15-05

MICHIGAN — Tensions along the Ukrainian border continue this week. Russia now has over 100,000 troops along the border. Over the weekend, U.S. officials reiterated that an invasion could be imminent. NATO and the U.S. say everything is being done to deescalate Putin's efforts to reclaim the country which was formerly part of the Soviet Union, but Putin isn't budging in any of the talks he's had with world leaders.

Ukrainians living in Michigan are expressing their fears as they continue to watch tensions rise in their homeland. With the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the generational conflict that continues in the country to this day, they say it's heartbreaking to see the people of Ukraine living under constant stress of invasion.

Despite Russia's claims they don't plan on invading Ukraine, Borys Potapenko from Oakland County in metro-Detroit says he's heard it all before.

"This is very, very dangerous," he said. “If Ukraine were to fall, if Russia was to occupy and take over and control Ukraine, the world would be in a much, much more dangerous place than it is now.”

Potapenko, part of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America and active member of the Michigan Ukrainian community, says he's watched Russia continuously test Ukraine in Crimea and the Donbas region and is worried the entire country may be next.

Many U.S. officials agree.

"We've always said and said for quite some time that another incursion by Russia could be imminent and imminent means imminent," Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said in a press conference Friday.

Potakenko was born in Michigan to Ukrainian immigrants. Although born in the states, he embraces his Ukrainian heritage and has served as director of the Ukrainian Cultural Center in Warren for 17 years.

"The Ukrainian community in Michigan has been around for over 100 years," he said.

However, Potapenko still has family in Ukraine, including a brother who is anxiously waiting and watching to see what unfolds on the front lines.

"My brother is out there helping train, helping the civilians who are training as the Home Guard. My nephew is involved in the Home Guard. He's 50 years old," Potapenko said.

Potapenko and his family aren't the only ones anxiously waiting.

Michigan Senator Gary Peters, a member of the bipartisan Senate Ukraine Caucus, says he's in contact with legislators and the administration about what America can do to help Ukraine. He says sanctions are absolutely on the table.

"If Mr. Putin decides to have his forces go into Ukraine, I believe they will be a huge mistake for him and for his country, hopefully, they will have some clear heads and understand that," Senator Peters said. “The cost versus the game makes no sense. It would be a very, very bad move.”

Senator Peters adds that he understands1990s the stresses Eastern Europeans living in Michigan are going through as they're reminded of Soviet Union aggression that hasn't let up since the 1990s.

"I would tell the folks in the Ukrainian community and those who have loved ones in Ukraine, that I'm focused on this and I know the US government is focused on making a clear, strong stand against Russian aggression."

Russian aggression may begin in Ukraine, but may not end there he adds.

"If it's allowed to happen, then what's to stop the Russians from getting into other countries as well? Or a signal to other countries around the world that also have bullies in charge of their governments to do the same kind of thing," Senator Peters said.

Diplomatic efforts to resolve tensions at the border continue, but thousands of American and NATO troops in Europe remain on standby if an invasion occurs. Meanwhile, Potapenko says Ukrainian Michiganders will continue to rally and pray for a peaceful resolution.

On Monday the United Nations will meet to discuss Russia's military buildup along the border.