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Editorial: Local support for the Ukrainian people is a welcome sight

Across the North Fork, when the world’s attention turned to events unfolding in Ukraine, many people spoke up on behalf of the Ukrainian people fighting the Russian invasion of their country. Many have told deeply personal stories.

Father Piotr Narkiewicz, the Polish-born pastor of St. Agnes R.C. Church in Greenport, spoke of having priest friends in Ukraine who want to remain in the country to care for the wounded and support the Ukrainian people.

Father Ryszard Ficek, pastor of Our Lady of Ostrabrama R.C. Church in Cutchogue, spoke at Mass Saturday evening in Mattituck about the hardships facing the Ukrainian people and the refugee crisis unfolding just over the border in his native Poland. He did his best to control his emotions.

Perhaps the most important voice for this moment is the Rev. Bohdan Hedz, pastor of St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church in Riverhead. The Ukrainian born Hedz, and his wife, Lina, who is also Ukrainian, have families in harm’s way they speak to every day. They don’t know what lies ahead.

The Rev. Hedz’s message in his church since the war began, and repeated Monday afternoon at a rally in Riverhead, can be summed up this way: The Ukrainians will fight the Russians; they will not give up; if Ukrainian democracy falls, all democracies in western Europe are at risk. 

The rally Monday was a very welcome sight as this crisis continues to unfold. More than 100 people showed up, waving Ukrainian flags in support. It was good to see Riverhead Town and Suffolk County officials come out to support the Rev. Hedz and Riverhead’s Ukrainian community.

When the Rev. Hedz called on the crowd to sing the Ukrainian national anthem, dozens of voices took up the cry.

A visit to the Rev. Hedz’s church after the rally showed that people are dropping off packages to help the Ukrainian people — clothes, toiletries and many other things filled the small lobby of the church and the front steps.

There is a troubling backdrop to the widespread American support for Ukraine that has played out in recent days. It is one that, once again, asks the critical question for our country at this moment in our history: How did we become so divided? What is the future of our democracy?

Russian state television — the medium controlled by the dictator Vladimir Putin — has featured segments showing former president Trump, former secretary of state Pompeo and television personality Tucker Carlson — praising Putin.

On one of the Sunday talk shows, Utah Republican senator Mitt Romney characterized this as “almost treasonous.” One can only imagine what some Republicans would say if a Democrat praised a dictator at war with an American ally. Some might know their history well enough to have read of Charles Lindbergh’s speeches in support of Hitler prior to World War II. Many called that treason.

Trump was impeached for withholding aid to Ukraine in exchange for dirt on his political rival, Joe Biden. The receiver of those messages was the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who has become a hero worldwide for his courageous stance against Russia. Zelenskyy has begged the world to help him and to send military equipment. 

Sen. Romney used the word “evil” to describe a weekend meeting in Florida of a group called the America First Political Action Conference conducted by white nationalist and far-right organizer Nick Fuentes. At the meeting, Fuentes urged the crowd to give “a round of applause for Russia.”

The meeting was attended by two members of the Trump wing of the Republican party, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar, both members of Congress. The party has yet to censure them for their attendance.

Sitting in one of his mansions in Russia, counting all the billions he has stolen, what does Putin think when he sees on his own television station three prominent Americans — one a former president — complimenting him? It surely must embolden him to keep doing what he is doing, which is killing innocent Ukrainians and bombing one of their cities with internationally banned cluster bombs. Children are among the dead.

As Sen. Romney said of the pro-Putin comments of the three, this is “almost treasonous.” 

We emailed a spokesman for Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) for his comment on the appearances of the three on Russian state television. It is fair to ask Mr. Zeldin, a very strong supporter of Trump, for his views on major events. He is running for governor of our state, after all. 

We are waiting on a response.