Although it’s taking place thousands of miles away, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine hits differently for Utahns who have family members fleeing the violence.
Ana Ivanova is one of those Utahns. Her half sister is currently taking shelter with her family in a Ukrainian town roughly 600-700 miles from the Polish border, Ivanova told KSL NewsRadio on Thursday. Although she has been in contact with her sister, Ivanova said it’s difficult to keep up moment to moment.
“It’s hard to say,” she said, when asked about her sister’s welfare. “Obviously, they’re all scared. There’s bombings happening a few houses down from her house.”
The shelling seems likely to continue into the night, Ivanova said, and her sister expects a full-scale assault of the town could come in the next couple of hours.
“They’re waiting for a night invasion — night bombing — because they say that that’s going to be the scariest one,” she said.
Ivanova said that shelters are reserved for military families, so her sister is going to try to flee to Poland. Normally a two-hour flight, her sister could face a treacherous journey west due to the shutdown of airports across the country.
When it comes to food and supplies, Ivanova said her family is good “for now,” but future provisions could be difficult to find.
Utah County Attorney David Leavitt is no stranger to Ukrainian politics, having spent 14 years working in the country. He told KSL NewsRadio that he’s used WhatsApp to get updates from colleagues within the last hour — including one who was stuck in a mileslong traffic jam trying to drive from Kyiv to Poland.
Leavitt said that one of his “closest friends in Ukraine,” former president Viktor Yushchenko, is one of the top names on Russian president Vladimir Putin’s “kill list.”
“I hope he’s alive tomorrow,” he said.
With millions of people attempting to escape to Poland or other neighboring countries, having left only “with the clothes on their back,” Leavitt told the Deseret News that many will not be able to make it to safety in time.
“You can’t get to Poland from Kyiv on one tank of gas,” he said. “And once the gas supplies run out, people will abandon their cars and they’ll start walking.”
When that happens, Leavitt said, Ukraine faces a massive humanitarian crisis.
“You’re going to see the best of humanity in some instances, and you’ll see the worst in humanity in some instances,” he said. “It won’t be simply the Russians invading Ukraine that will create the crisis, it will be Ukrainians struggling for their own survival, when it’s Ukrainian against Ukrainian.”
Leavitt said the current moment calls for reflection, because the United States isn’t immune from the violence or “despotism” that Russia and Ukraine have endured. When traveling to Ukraine, he often tells friends he sees their government and criminal justice system as “our future” without reforms.
“I guess what I’m filled with today is sadness for my friends and colleagues in Ukraine, but I’m also poignantly aware that similar things can — and will — happen in the United States,” he said. “It may not be the Russians. It may be ourselves. Unless we take care of our most critical institutions, we will fall victim ourselves, in one way or another.”
The invasion is “shocking” and “unbelievable,” a Utah lawmaker told House colleagues on Thursday, urging federal sanctions to end the war as quickly as possible.
Rep. Jordan Teuscher, R-South Jordan, spoke of his personal ties to Ukraine, and asked the House to observe a moment of silence for “those that have already perished” and “those that likely will in the future.” He wore what he called a “Ukrainian national shirt,” stitched with the bright blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag.
“As many of you know, this is very personal to me, as I’ve spent a considerable amount of my life living in Ukraine and working in Ukraine. My wife is from Ukraine. Her family currently lives in Ukraine. ... This is just quite shocking and unbelievable,” Teuscher said.
Invoking the opening lines of Ukraine’s national anthem, he said “Ukraine is not dead yet, nor its glory, nor its freedom.” Teuscher called Ukrainians “a people that has long suffered to have their own place ... that wasn’t occupied by some other territory.” He called the 1991 Declaration of Independence “a miracle” that finally allowed Ukrainians to embrace their own culture — making the invasion all the more tragic.
“Again, Russian aggression in this area is quite shocking, and sad on many levels,” he said.
Teuscher said he knows that federal leaders are “aligned” in opposition to Russia’s incursion, and urged sanctions to end the conflict as quickly as possible.
Teuscher said he has traveled to Ukraine throughout his life, after serving a mission there for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Current Latter-day Saint missionaries serving in Ukraine were removed from the country last month.
Concerns for innocent lives, global implications
Utah Senate leaders, in a media availability with reporters Tuesday, shared emotional and at times tearful thoughts about the situation in Ukraine, expressing concern for innocent lives as well as future implications across Europe and the globe.
“How do you not have compassion (for) the Ukrainian citizens?” Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said. “I’d never thought I’d see tanks go across the border. ... To have tanks running across the border, firing at citizens, I can’t help but have compassion. And I’m frustrated.”
Adams strongly condemned Russia’s actions. “To handle it this way, there’s so many other diplomatic ways they could do it. ... If there’s problems between those two countries, to use military force I condemn strongly.”
Adams added he’s “disappointed” that a superpower like Russia would “stretch out and use those super powers on a small country like Ukraine.” And he said he’s “worried” for Europe and Germany and their dependence on Soviet nations for natural gas.
“We need to fix that. We have ample natural gas in Utah. We have ample natural gas in the U.S. We can ship that. We just need a port in California to get it out and ship to Germany,” he said. “We need to take care of our allies. Energy is what drives our economy, and we need to be able to share that energy with Europe and the other countries that need it.”
“Hopefully,” Adams added, “we have a president that will do that,” and hopefully the nation will answer the call to “not only be compassionate for those countries, but we need to do something economically to help them.”
Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, got tearful when he recalled standing on Hill Air Force Base’s runway to watch military members both say goodbye to their families before they deployed and then their emotional welcome home when they returned.
“I really believe that that’s some of the most touching events that I’ve ever had in my life,” he said, his voice cracking. “What’s going on is very personal to me.”
“And it’s wrong,” Adams added.
Senate Minority Whip Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, said it’s “tragic to think about innocent civilians, especially children” in Ukraine and seeing the pictures of their homes being destroyed.
“Prayers for those families and those little kids. Their entire lives just changed completely,” she said. “It’s pretty tragic.”
Escamilla added she also worries about the larger implications for the rest of the world.
“My biggest concern,” she said, “is Putin won’t stop with Ukraine.”
Now that the Kremlin is “so empowered ... we need to make sure we protect, obviously, innocent lives,” but also the U.S.’s allies.
“Our entire world depends on how we react as a nation and with our allies,” she said.
Europe’s “codependency” on Russia is creating a “bigger issue,” Escamilla added. “Now, more than ever, we need to be part of that solution.”
Contributing: Katie McKellar