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Roman Strakovsky of Mount Airy, a cofounder of Philly Stands with Ukraine, stands outside his home.

Roman Strakovsky of Mount Airy, a cofounder of Philly Stands with Ukraine, stands outside his home. (Tyger Williams/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS)

PHILADELPHIA (Tribune News Service) — Roman Strakovsky expected to be heading from Philadelphia to Ukraine about now, to help rebuild the country after the end of the war.

But he's still here. And the fighting grinds on.

"For the last months it's been just a stalemate," said Strakovsky, a leader of Philly Stands With Ukraine who lives in Mount Airy. "Both sides are exhausted."

A weariness has settled here too, at the war's six-month mark.

Activists like Strakovsky who labor to bring attention, money, and intent to the Ukrainian cause can see the shift in views, as time moves on and people face the family and financial challenges of $4-a-gallon gasoline, rising food costs, and supply-chain failures that create shortages in everything from cars to baby formula.

Some people call it Ukraine fatigue. Or the exhaustion of ever-changing expectations. Or the drain of navigating an era where a stream of tumultuous, historic events can make a war in Europe seem like merely one of the day's news stories.

"My husband came home from work, and somebody had asked him, 'Is the war over?' Because he hadn't heard anything about it," said Olha Dishchuk, a Huntingdon Valley nurse who volunteers in Ukrainian causes. "That really hurt."

A conflict that many expected to end quickly — a lightning victory by powerful Russian forces, then, no, a steely Ukraine rally to expel the invaders — has devolved into a bloody slog. Coverage has slipped to the inside pages of newspapers and off the top stories of TV broadcasts.

In Philadelphia, the rallies that drew hundreds of people to City Hall and Independence Mall in the early weeks of the fighting have mostly stopped.

"I think the U.S. is now more concentrated on the problems at home," said Olha Khomyak, a New York immigration attorney who also aids clients in Philadelphia. "The war is being normalized."

Even Ukraine President Volodymyr ZelenskYy feels the strain of making the world pay attention, generating star-power news coverage this month when he welcomed Oscar-winning actress Jessica Chastain to Kyiv.

"For us, such visits of famous people are extremely valuable," he said in an internet post..

Many of the thousands of Ukrainians who managed to flee and make it to Philadelphia and other American cities — almost all of them women and children — find long-term planning impossible.

People who expected to stay a few months or maybe a year in the United States now wonder if they'll ever go back. And some who figured they might stay permanently aren't sure if they'll be able to do so.

Veronika Pavliutina's home city of Odesa was bombed on the first day, and she left quickly with her three children. They stayed with friends in Serbia, then came to the United States in March.

She's awaiting approval of her application for Temporary Protected Status. That designation would grant her permission to stay, but is also exactly as stated — temporary, expiring in October 2023.

"I would stay, and I guess the kids would support it," Pavliutina said. "But I cannot say for sure, because we don't know if we would be allowed."

The Philadelphia region is home to one of the nation's largest Ukrainian American communities, about 70,000 people whose support and fund-raising for Ukraine continues unabated.

They've generated dollars through everything from pierogi festivals to music concerts to classic car shows. On Sunday, $5 from every admission to the Ukrainian Folk Festival in Horsham will go to help war victims. A Ukraine Independence Day ceremony is set for noon Wednesday at Philadelphia City Hall.

But the longer the war goes on, the more challenging it becomes to retain the interest of a wider community.

"There are still [Ukrainian] flags everywhere here," said Ashley Nickels, an associate political science professor at Kent State University in Ohio, a state that also has a big Ukrainian American population. "But for the general public, always being immersed in a crisis is exhausting. And there are other things grabbing their attention."

Meanwhile, burnout is a real risk for activists who devote month after month to a deeply personal cause, said Nickels, who studies social movements in the School of Peace and Conflict Studies.

Now some in Philadelphia are seeking new ways to engage, to move toward events more centered on culture than protest, and to directly approach elected officials in Washington and City Hall.

Philly Stands With Ukraine didn't try to stage a huge rally to persuade Philadelphia to drop a Russian town as its sister city — its leaders made the request in a meeting with Mayor Jim Kenney's staff.

"We've had conversations about how events, it's harder to get people to come out," said Strakovsky, a data analyst. "But the war hasn't stopped. People are still dying."

In April he helped lead a dramatic anti-Russia protest, a "die-in" where demonstrators covered themselves in fake blood and fell to the ground as an air-raid siren blared across Rittenhouse Square.

The event drew wide attendance and publicity. And left Strakovsky emotionally spent.

Lately his activism has concentrated on a Ukrainian film series he hopes will encourage interest in the country, even if fewer people take part. At a June screening in Bryn Mawr of Stop-Zemlia, a story of Ukrainian teenagers, a schoolteacher approached him to say the youths in the movie were exactly like the American kids in her classroom.

"That was really meaningful to me," Strakovsky said. "The hope is more people see Ukrainians as normal people, with normal hopes, who are thrust into extraordinarily difficult circumstances. Not just as victims or some super warriors."

Dishchuk, the nurse, doesn't know when or how the war might end. Nor have an answer for how to reignite wider public interest.

She volunteers with Revived Soldiers Ukraine, which brings seriously injured troops to the United States for treatment. And every day at work, she wears a shirt with Ukrainian colors or symbols, to prompt conversations with colleagues and people she meets.

She assures them the war is not over. Not for her parents, nor for her sister or her nephews, ages 5 and 17, all of whom live in western Ukraine.

"Every day, I don't know what's going to land on their house," Dishchuk said. "I understand the economy in America, people are afraid of prices going up, and gas prices. But at least they sleep safely."

©2022 The Philadelphia Inquirer, LLC.

Visit at inquirer.com.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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