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Retired professor reflects on time in Ukraine as war continues to ravage country

George Lomaga stood outside Our Lady of Good Counsel R.C. Church in Mattituck after Mass on Easter Sunday talking about a country he has lived in and where all four of his grandparents were born.

Inside the church, as the regular part of Mass had ended, Monsignor Joseph Staudt held a five-minute prayer service for the people of Ukraine, where a war waged by Vladimir Putin has entered its second month. Music director Patti Homan sang, and Msgr. Staudt said prayers along with the dozens of people who remained after the Easter Mass had ended.

Standing outside in a cold wind, wearing a blue and yellow coat emblazoned with the word UKRAINE on the back, Mr. Lomaga said the war will only get worse.

“It’s going to be very bad now,” he said. “There is a lot of suffering coming for Ukraine.”

Mr. Lomaga — a member of the Mattituck Park District, a former member of the Mattituck-Cutchogue Board of Education and a retired professor of astronomy and geology at Suffolk County Community College — has both strong family and personal ties to Ukraine.

Wearing his blue and yellow jacket — representing the colors of Ukraine — is one way he shows support for a country he fell in love with many years ago.

In 2003, Mr. Lomaga received an International Rotary Grant to be an ambassador of education to a developing country. His plan was to go to a country in South America, but when he saw Ukraine on a list of potential countries he jumped at the chance to go. 

“My ancestry is there, so I put in for Ukraine,” he said. “The purpose was to go to schools there and let them know about the education system in America. I went to a school in Kharkiv. I was in an elementary school, then a junior high school and then I moved all over the place and to the university in Kharkiv to teach astronomy. 

“I stayed for three months,” he said, adding that he loved the country and the people and despite the passage of years has kept in touch with people and followed events in the news.

His affection for Ukraine came naturally: Both his paternal and his maternal grandparents were born there before immigrating to America.

“It was clear when they got there that there was not a lot of money for education,” he said of the students he met in different classrooms. “They were not doing practical research and did not have the equipment. One of my students got me an apartment, but for the first few days I stayed with a family.

“I can speak Ukrainian,” he said. “My grandparents were from Lviv. They came over in a cattle boat in the early 1900s. I found out when the war began that the apartment I stayed in was bombed. Many of the people I met there are now refugees in Poland.”

Mr. Lomaga has been closely watching the daily developments in Ukraine, where President Joe Biden has accused Russian leaders of committing war crimes and even genocide. For him, events in Ukraine feels like a member of his own family is under attack.

“What can I say?” he said. “It’s very hard to imagine people doing this to other people. I think the Russians thought the Ukrainians would lay down and give up. It is sickening what is happened to these people. The country is getting destroyed.”