Top Stories 2022: As war raged, the Ukrainian community on the North Fork showed support

On Feb. 24, Russia attacked its neighbor Ukraine, bombing a number of cities and sending tanks and soldiers into the northern part of the country en route to the capital city of Kyiv. Within a few days, the North Fork’s Polish and Ukrainian communities came together to rally support for Ukraine and its besieged citizens. On Feb. 27, scores of supporters came together outside Riverhead Town Hall, holding up signs that read “Stand With Ukraine” and “Stop Russian Aggression.” It surprised many who attended the rally how many Polish- and Ukrainian-born people lived on the North Fork. 

Bracing a cold wind, a large crowd gathered at the flagpole at Town Hall, waving the distinctive yellow and blue Ukrainian flags that would soon become ubiquitous across the region as the war raged on. 

The Rev. Bohdan Hedz, pastor of St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Church on Pond View Road in Riverhead, called for the crowd to remain strong in their support for the country of his and his wife’s birth. In an interview, he said he had made anxious calls to his mother, who lives in western Ukraine, to make sure she was okay. The Rev. Hedz and his congregation soon became ground zero for organizing support for Ukrainians who had fled the fighting into neighboring Poland. Within days, the basement of the church was filled with supplies, from warm clothing to sleeping bags, that were packed in trucks and sent to Newark International Airport for flights to Poland. By spring, this congregation had shipped more than 40 tons of supplies to Poland and Ukraine.