Hundreds of people gathered Saturday at the Seattle Center to protest Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. (Taylor Goebel / The Herald)

Hundreds of people gathered Saturday at the Seattle Center to protest Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. (Taylor Goebel / The Herald)

Sleepless nights for Ukrainian immigrants in Snohomish County

Snohomish County is the “largest home” for Ukrainians in the state, according to Refugee & Immigrant Services Northwest.

EVERETT — For the first seven years of her life, Lily Tomchick lived in Ukraine.

Like many local immigrants, she has spent the past week wrought with fear for the safety of loved ones. She visited the country last summer and reconnected with family and friends — people she’s worried about now.

“A part of my heart is left over there,” said Tomchick, 24, of Everett. “I’m in a state of despair looking at the news, seeing all these places getting destroyed. Every single time you get news, it’s never good news. You think, ‘This is the worst that it could be.’ Then you get more news and it’s worse than that.”

Tomchick attends the Ukrainian Baptist Church of Everett. The war has brought her church community closer together, she said, as they lean on one another and pray.

On Saturday, hundreds of protesters gathered in Seattle to rally against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine. A grassy patch below the Space Needle turned into a sea of blue and yellow as people waved Ukrainian and American flags and called for an end to the war. Many held up posters. Some depicted Putin as a modern-day Hitler, while others read, “Freedom for Ukraine,” and “Peace, not war,” in Ukrainian.

Many held up sunflowers, the country’s national flower. The sunflower became a symbol against the invasion after a Ukrainian woman confronted a heavily armed Russian soldier last week. While cursing at the soldier, the woman offered him seeds so that if he died on Ukrainian soil, “at least sunflowers will grow.”

Olga Wiley

Olga Wiley

Olga Wiley, 43, of Everett, attended the Seattle rally. She wore a blue-and-yellow blanket, matching the flag of her home country.

“I think about it 24/7,” she said of the invasion. “I didn’t sleep these nights at all.”

She arrived in the United States from Ukraine two months ago to marry David Wiley, now her husband. The Everett couple had to wait 16 months for the immigration process to go through.

“I’m glad it didn’t take two months more,” David Wiley said.

Since the invasion last week, Olga Wiley has kept in constant contact with friends and family back home, including her father, 65, who joined a civilian militia.

“Tanks rolled into his neighborhood a couple days ago, and now they’re attacking civilians,” David Wiley said on Saturday.

Olga Wiley’s father is armed, like many Ukrainians.

“Everyone does what they can,” she said.

A man brought a saxophone to the rally. He played the State Anthem of Ukraine, “Shche ne vmerla Ukraina,” as people in the crowd sang the lyrics in Ukrainian.

Roughly translated:

Ukraine’s glory hasn’t perished, nor freedom, nor will.

Upon us, fellow kin, fate shall smile once more.

Right after, the man played “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

The Space Needle in Seattle became the center of a rally Saturday as hundreds protested Russia’s war against Ukraine. The rally was organized by the Ukrainian Association of Washington State. (Taylor Goebel / The Herald)

The Space Needle in Seattle became the center of a rally Saturday as hundreds protested Russia’s war against Ukraine. The rally was organized by the Ukrainian Association of Washington State. (Taylor Goebel / The Herald)

Local government support

State and local leaders have announced this week plans to support Ukraine.

On Monday, Gov. Jay Inslee said he wants state agencies to look for any contracts with Russian firms and cancel them. He also encouraged private businesses to “disassociate” themselves from doing business with Russia.

“The people of Washington stand with the people of Ukraine. We need to stop Vladimir Putin starting today,” Inslee said. “If our state can put one brick in the wall around Putin, it would be a good thing.”

Inslee was scheduled to meet with Ukrainian community leaders Wednesday.

In other states, lawmakers are calling for action to put financial strain on Russia in the public and private sectors.

At the local level, Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers signed a proclamation Monday showing support for Ukrainians.

“Snohomish County is ready to welcome and support any refugees which may arrive in our county and state as a result of the invasion,” the proclamation reads. “We stand in solidarity with our Ukrainian neighbors and send thoughts and prayers for peace in Ukraine.”

A young child carries a sunflower, the national flower of Ukraine, during a demonstration in Seattle on Saturday. The sunflower became a symbol against Russia’s invasion after a Ukrainian woman confronted a heavily armed Russian soldier last week. While cursing at the soldier, she offered him seeds so that when he died on Ukrainian soil, “at least sunflowers will grow.” (Taylor Goebel / The Herald)

A young child carries a sunflower, the national flower of Ukraine, during a demonstration in Seattle on Saturday. The sunflower became a symbol against Russia’s invasion after a Ukrainian woman confronted a heavily armed Russian soldier last week. While cursing at the soldier, she offered him seeds so that when he died on Ukrainian soil, “at least sunflowers will grow.” (Taylor Goebel / The Herald)

Van Dinh-Kuno, executive director of Refugee & Immigrant Services Northwest, said Snohomish County is the “largest home” for Ukrainians in the state. When the former Soviet Union allowed Ukrainians to leave the country in 1988, a wave of refugees left for the United States. Many landed in Snohomish County, Dinh-Kuno said.

“Just overnight, I came into work and here I have seven or eight Ukrainian families waiting outside my office for assistance,” she remembered.

Some of those families now own businesses. Many have put down roots.

Refugee & Immigrant Services Northwest still assists newly arrived Ukrainians, and the organization is prepared for a possible influx of refugees.

“If Ukrainian refugees arrive in our county, they will get the support they need,” Dinh-Kuno said. “They will get anything they need to start a new life.”

State lawmakers earmarked nearly $19 million in the proposed supplemental budget to provide needed services and housing for Ukrainians who flee to Washington.

The state Senate on Friday and the House on Saturday approved a budget amendment that would make $5.5 million available to counties to assist arriving refugees. It also sets aside roughly $13.5 million to help people secure housing and other necessary support services, such as getting children into school, finding work, accessing behavioral health programs and legal services.

According to The New York Times, about half a million Ukrainian refugees had fled the country as of this week.

Herald Reporter Jerry Cornfield contributed to this report.

Ellen Dennis: 425-339-3486; edennis@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @reporterellen.

Taylor Goebel: 425-339-3046; taylor.goebel@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @TaylorGoebel.

Hundreds gathered in front of the Space Needle in Seattle on Saturday to rally against the Russian war in Ukraine. The crowd sang the Ukrainian national anthem, followed by “The Star-Spangled Banner.”(Taylor Goebel / The Herald)

Hundreds gathered in front of the Space Needle in Seattle on Saturday to rally against the Russian war in Ukraine. The crowd sang the Ukrainian national anthem, followed by “The Star-Spangled Banner.”(Taylor Goebel / The Herald)

Local resources

Regional organizations offer language translation, refugee and immigrant support, social services and behavioral health.

The main office for Refugee & Immigrant Services Northwest is located in Room #228 in the Rainier Building of Everett Community College, 2000 Tower St., Everett, Wash. The office can be reached by phone at 425-388-9307.

To reach the Ukrainian Community Center of Washington, call 425-430-8229.

To reach the Ukrainian Association of Washington, call 206-412-8485.

To reach the Seattle Slavic Association, based on Everett Mall Way, call 425-367-4877.

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