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‘Anything can happen at any moment’: Queens business owner concerned for friends and family amid Russian invasion of Ukraine

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Stepan Rogulskyi is a native Ukrainian who immigrated to the U.S. in 2008 in pursuit of a better life. He owns a restaurant, Varenyk House, located at 67-14 Fresh Pond Rd., that serves Ukrainian and eastern European food. (Photo by Carlotta Mohamed)

After Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Queens business owner Stepan Rogulskyi, of Maspeth, is constantly receiving updates from his friends and family back home who are caught in the middle of the war. 

Rogulskyi, a native Ukrainian who immigrated to the U.S. in 2008 in pursuit of a better life, owns Varenyk House, a restaurant located at 67-14 Fresh Pond Rd. in Ridgewood that serves Ukrainian and eastern European food. He told QNS how he tries to stay in contact with his family multiple times throughout the day to make sure they are safe.

“My mother is stressed right now and when they turn on the TV it’s only war,” Rogulskyi said. “She is worried that anything can happen at any moment.” 

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that he had “decided to conduct a special military operation” to protect eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region, two days after recognizing the “People’s Republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk, also known as the Donbas region, as independent. 

The conflict in eastern Ukraine started in 2014, according to the International Crisis Group, and has killed over 14,000 people. The war pits Ukrainian government forces against Russia-backed separatists for control over much of the two heavily industrialized regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. 

Ukrainian servicemen stand guard on a road in Kharkiv, Ukraine Feb. 25, 2022. (REUTERS/Maksim Levin)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has declared martial law, urging citizens to not panic as Russia launches military strikes.

Rogulskyi’s mother, father, and two brothers reside in Truskavets in western Ukraine, while his grandparents live in a village nearby.

Rogulskyi, whose restaurant serves Ukrainian and eastern European food, told QNS that he hasn’t slept much since the invasion began, but wanted to continue working.

“Last night, I only slept two hours and I came in to work because I still have a job to do,” Rogulskyi said.

Rogulskyi checks daily updates on social media and the Ukrainian news media’s coverage on the war.

The wreckage of an unidentified aircraft that crashed into a house in a residential area is seen in Kyiv, Ukraine, Feb. 25, 2022. (REUTERS/Umit Bektas)

“Right now, all Russian TV news coverage is showing that Ukraine is bombing themselves,” Rogulskyi said. “The situation changes very quickly. One hour, they’re saying that a small city in one region is occupied with Russian troops, and am hearing an hour later that Ukraine has defended and took it back.” 

During work, Rogulskyi received prayers and support from clients who came into the restaurant. He is asking for Americans and Russians to come out and rally against the war and stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine. 

“What we have in the U.S. is human dignity and if they want to show what they stand for, which is freedom and human rights, then they must do something more than just sanctions,” Rogulskyi said. “The Ukrainians will never agree to any kind of contract with that killer [Putin]. We are not gonna stay on our knees and we have nothing to lose besides our freedom.”

“The Ukranians’ vision is changing and we know why we live, what we want. We want to build up our country, and soon the sun will shine over Ukraine,” Rogulskyi added.

Calling Russia’s invasion an “unprovoked and unjustified” attack against Ukraine, President Joe Biden issued a statement saying, “President Putin has chosen a premeditated war that will bring a catastrophic loss of life and human suffering.”

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., Feb. 24, 2022. (REUTERS/Leah Millis TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)

“Russia alone is responsible for the death and destruction this attack will bring, and the United States and its allies and partners will respond in a united and divisive way. The world will hold Russia accountable,” Biden said. 

The president met with leaders of the G7 Summit on Thursday, and authorized a new round of sanctions and limitations in response to Putin’s war of choice against Ukraine.

Queens lawmakers have taken to social media to express their concern and support for the Ukrainian community in the borough and abroad.

City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams tweeted, “As we watch Russia attack Ukraine, my heart goes out to the Ukrainian people and our Ukrainian communities throughout New York City. All war is heartbreaking, and this one is already no different. We stand in solidarity with our Ukrainian neighbors and pray for peace.” 

After visiting Kyiv and other areas of Ukraine last year on a mission trip, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards said the “beauty of the country was matched only by the strength and kindness of its people.” 

Richards condemned Putin’s invasion, saying it is “pointless and heinous.” 

“His government must pay dearly for its attack on its free, democratic neighbor and the people of Ukraine. To our Russian American community in Queens, we know this is not your war. We stand with you against Putin’s violence and evil,” Richards tweeted

In a statement, Congressman Tom Suozzi said Putin’s illegitimate and unprovoked attack in Ukraine demands a united strong response from the world community. 

Putin cannot be appeased. We must summon strength. ‘The veneer of civilization is paper thin. We are its guardians, and we cannot rest,’ said Tom Lantos, former member of Congress and Holocaust survivor,” Suozzi said. 

Congresswoman Grace Meng said she is praying for the people of Ukraine in their defense of democracy and freedom. 

“Putin’s unprovoked attack against #Ukraine is outrageous & we and our allies must immediately hold him accountable for this unacceptable aggression,” Meng tweeted. 

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