Ukrainians in Phoenix anxiously wait as tensions rise between Ukraine and Russia

Ukraine is about 6,300 miles from Phoenix. Imagine being that far away and watching, and waiting, to find out if your home country was going to be invaded.  That's what's playing out for local Ukrainians in Arizona right now.

"We're checking in on an almost hourly basis." Both of Victor Szwez's parents were born and raised in Ukraine. He grew up immersed in the community while he was a kid in Chicago. 

Szwez, like many, has been keeping a close eye on the situation developing between Ukraine and Russia. It's not easy for him to watch.

"They're anxious, they're frightened. People shouldn't have to go through this."

Separatist parts of Ukraine are now evacuating in possible preparation for an invasion from Russia and tensions continue to rise.

ASU's co-director for the Center on the Future of War, Daniel Rothenberg, says diplomacy must still be stressed right now.

"Part of what holds the world together is the agreement that states have their boundaries and that boundaries cannot be ruptured by invasion, that's something illegal, and we have to respect the sovereignty of states. So it's a serious issue for the world and for world order."

Szwez can only hope for the best for his friends and family still in Ukraine. The parishioners at St. Mary's Orthodox Church where he serves as President are praying for peace.

"Deep down, every minute of the day, you just keep thinking, ‘Are they going to invade? Are they going to invade? How many people are going to die for this?’ It's a tough situation."

Szwez says they are holding weekly prayer vigils at the church for the situation. All they can do is hope their prayers are answered and no lives are lost.

'I pray for your people, I pray for everybody'

Family and friends in Phoenix can only watch from afar as their loved ones receive evacuation orders. Irene Renstrom has family in Ukraine and says they’ve been suffering for years from the prolonged violence.

"Their economy is suffering, it really is. The more Putin scares everybody into thinking he’s going to go in there and take chunks of Ukraine, the worse it gets," Renstrom said, adding, "The ones that are still in the villages, it’s poor there. They really have to be helped, and we keep sending them money hoping that somehow they’ll get a leg up, but their kids have to travel to other countries and earn a living and then come back and help their mom and family, so it’s not that easy."

A Phoenix-area Ukrainian church says many in the community are coming together, offering help and prayers.

"I have received in the last week many emails for the people who told me, ‘I’m not a Catholic, I’m not Ukrainian, but I pray for your people, I pray for everybody,’ I think this is unified with all the people who want to just a place to pray it and opportunity for everybody to get close to God," said Reverend Hugo Soutus with the Dormition of the Mother of God, a Ukrainian Catholic parish.

His brother, sister-in-law and niece live in Ukraine. "I just ask the good lord to bless the Ukrainian people. I believe the Lord will do the impossible," Soutus said.

He adds, "The prayer is more powerful than the bullets and this church was resurrected from the ashes. Our country Ukraine will resurrect after all these troubles."

What's happening in Ukraine?

Amid its tensest standoff with the West since the Cold War, Russia plans to give its nuclear weapons apparatus a practice run this weekend.

The multiple practice launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles and cruise missiles set for Saturday follow a warning from U.S. President Joe Biden that Russia could invade Ukraine within days.

NATO says Russian President Vladimir Putin has failed to keep his promises of withdrawing some of an estimated 150,000 troops assembled around Ukraine’s borders, dashing hopes for an imminent de-escalation of the crisis. The Kremlin insists it has no plans to invade.

Following several phone calls with trans-Atlantic leaders, Biden said Friday he's "convinced" that Putin has decided to launch a further invasion in Ukraine, saying he has "reason to believe" it will occur in the "coming days" and will include an assault on its capital, Kyiv.

After weeks of saying the U.S. wasn't sure if Putin had made the final decision to launch a widespread invasion, Biden said that assessment had changed. "As of this moment I’m convinced he’s made the decision," Biden said. "We have reason to believe that."

He cited the United States’ "significant intelligence capability" for the assessment.

Biden reiterated his threat of massive economic and diplomatic sanctions against Russia if it does invade, and pressed Putin to rethink his course of action. He said the U.S. and its Western allies were more united than ever to ensure Russia pays a price for the invasion.

Vice President Kamala Harris is also taking a front seat. She is attending the annual Munich Security Conference this weekend in Germany, where she aims to cement the unity of Washington’s European allies.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will also be there - but Russian officials won't.

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