RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – There was a time that 82-year-old Oleh Wolowyna didn’t know whether he would survive to have children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
For many years he has called Chapel Hill home.
But he still remembers what it was like as a 5-year-old fleeing Ukraine to Austrian then Argentina and finally the United States.
“My father was on the list of enemies of the people. So he was on the list to be shot basically so it was either stay and die or flee. So we joined the millions of refugees and ended up in Austria,” he said.
During World War II, first it was the Soviets, then it was the Nazis, then it was the Soviets, finally after the Cold War Wolowyna’s homeland was free.
Now it looks like the Russians are again a threat.
He said “this is not just dangerous for Ukraine, this is dangerous for the Western system of liberal democracy that he has vowed to destroy. He makes no bones about it.”
“He” is Russian President Vladimir Putin and the man who has placed an estimated 100,000 troops at the Ukrainian border.
“They know what’s going to happen if the Russians invade because of what you hear from people that have managed to get out of Dombass. Horrible things are happening. People are being tortured literally in dungeons. There will be persecutions of people on the list that are in favor of independent Ukraine. So it’s going to be a really bad scene and some people have to flee or probably be executed. Even the current invasion produced almost two million refugees,” he said.
Wolowyna currently serves as the Vice President of the Ukrainian Association of North Carolina. He has spent time on the ground with a Ukrainian battalion.
They’ve already seen what happened when sanctions didn’t work and Russia annexed Crimea.
They’ve also watched previous leadership all but dissolve the national military.
Current Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his administration have worked to rebuild it.
“They said I am fighting to defend my home that I lost that I’d like to get back. My family had to flee I lost everything. I’m fighting to regain my home. The help that the Ukrainian Army has gotten from the West, especially the United States to some degree Canada and Great Britain, is an important contribution but they need much more. They kept asking all the time just give us the means to defend ourselves,” he said.
Known as the breadbasket of the world, Ukraine is also rich and mineral deposits and has been important to Russia for centuries.
“It’s extremely fertile land and during the Soviet Union times it was the main producer of grain for the whole Soviet Union. For centuries Russia understood the economic importance of Ukraine being part of the Russian Empire. That’s why the breakdown of the Soviet Union is such a tragedy for Mr. Putin,” said Wolowyna.
Sanctions did not work when Russian invaded Crimea.
Wolowyna believes this time sanctions have to be crippling. “The West can impose sanctions, financial sanctions that will hurt the economy so bad that Mr. Putin has no choice but to try to change his policy.”
Otherwise, Wolowyna worries the alternative will be devastating.
“Thousands of people are going to die. It’s going to be a bloodbath. No question about it,” he said.