Ukrainian Congress Committee Long Island Chapter Chairman Talks Helping Ukraine
In addition to being a lawyer at East Meadow, Oleh Dekajlo is chairman of the Long Island chapter of the Ukrainian Congress of America Committee, a non-profit organization that focuses on helping and advocating for that country.
His parents were born in western Ukraine near Lviv and are American citizens. He was born in New York, attended Stuyvesant High School, City University of New York, and then New York Law School, where he earned his Juris Doctorate. We spoke with him about the war in Ukraine and the Ukrainian community on Long Island.
Do you have family in Ukraine?
I do it. On my fathers side. Most of them are lawyers. One is a retired appellate judge. They are in the western part, which is less affected, as opposed to the eastern or southern part. I have a second cousin who is a federal prosecutor in Ukraine in Kyiv. He had to withdraw his whole family. Getting them out at the time was difficult, due to traffic jams and traffic jams. Thank goodness he has family in the west end. The air raid sirens in western Ukraine are sounding constantly.
Do you think Americans understand what’s going on or not?
Absolutely, the Americans I work with. I spoke with judges, prosecutors that I have not seen for 20 years. They make unexpected appearances at my office to donate money. They ask me for appropriate organizations or charities.
Do Ukrainians arrive on Long Island after the war as refugees?
The answer is, very little. Long Island is considered to have a strong Ukrainian community. Unlike other refugee movements, people left with suitcases. They have homes and jobs. Many displaced people have the firm intention of returning. The husband or the father may fight, but they seek to reunite.
What happens to businesses in Ukraine?
Business in Ukraine depends on where it is located. Retail spending took a hit, due to uncertainty about the future. In terms of sanctions, I was on the radio on February 22, two days before the official start of the war, calling for sanctions, asking why they weren’t imposed sooner and why they weren’t tougher. Now we are deploying sanctions. They strike, but why so late? Why didn’t it happen sooner? We can quarterback with 20/20 back. It has its effect. I think there could be pressure from the oligarchs.
Did Russia wage a war against an army or against civilians as well?
There are universally accepted standards even in times of war. You do not target civilian hospitals, apartment buildings without military threat or resistance. Mariupol is a beautiful city. You should seek the beauty of Mariupol before the occupation. It was a green city. There’s only one skeleton left now. Why? Because they can? To decimate a city that had no advantage and no military advantage?
What is the Committee of the Ukrainian Congress of America?
It’s an organization that’s been around since the 1940s. I’ve been a member for many years. It is a voluntary organization with a strong lobby, with separate staff. The Committee of the Ukrainian Congress of America is an umbrella organization. Most Ukrainian organizations in the United States are members. There is coordination between churches, schools, scouts, dance groups.
How has your organization changed since the start of the war?
Everyone is mobilized to be active. Before, people went to their meetings and had a nominal attendance. Every group, every youth group, is very active, looking for ways to help, to volunteer. There was a collection point at our parish center in Uniondale. They have become overwhelmed. Our church has donated the space, not renting it out, using it to accept donations for sorting and packing.
Have there been other attacks in the history of Ukraine?
We have what is called the Holodomor, which means death by starvation. Somewhere between 6 and 10 million Ukrainians died of starvation in 1932 and 1933. A memorial is held annually on Long Island. We have a monument in Eisenhower Park that is maintained. It was set up by the Committee of the Ukrainian Congress of America.
Why haven’t I heard of the Holodomor?
You should research it. Stalin forcibly starved millions of Ukrainians, millions. Every Ukrainian has a grandfather or great uncle with photos of a mountain of rotting Ukrainian bodies, corpses. It was a horrible experience that Ukrainians had.
How was this covered?
The New York Times had at the time in its drafting a denarius by the name of Walter Duranty. His job was to cover the famine. He denied that this happened. The New York Times was asked to withdraw his stories and return the Pulitzer he won for his cover. They publicly acknowledged that the Holodomor happened and they erred on the wrong side of the story in terms of coverage in the 1930s.
Is Russia Waging a War Using Disinformation?
One of the big issues that has crystallized is that one of Russia’s greatest weapons is propaganda. They use propaganda to their advantage. They promote it to the world and to their own people. We’ve always said he’s at the front of their arsenal. And now the world sees it.
Are Americans hearing the truth?
I think the reports have been mostly accurate. If anyone asks my opinion, I’ll give it to them. If they ask for facts, I will state the facts, as to what did or did not happen. I can give my opinion on why it happened.
Did you help bring out any flags?
We distributed hundreds, thousands of flags. Companies contact us. They want to put the flag on their table. There is also a Ukrainian symbol, a trident, it is a symbol of Ukrainian nationalism, a pride. Ukrainians will have it as a pin. This is not a political contest. You have an antagonist, a guy who is pure evil, who lies and cheats and has no human life value. And then you have the Ukrainians. Wherever you go. Go up and down. I was in Florida on the waterfront. I can’t tell you how many sailboats had Ukrainian flags.
It’s a good first step. What else?
Next, we come to hardware support. You have to stock up, go after politicians to encourage them not to hold back. Give Ukraine defensive weapons. The Poles wanted to give us their planes. The United States replied: “Absolutely not”. It would have been easy. Ukrainians are skilled pilots. Do not hold back. Why are we applying sanctions now, but we didn’t three months ago? Why did we wait for war to break out while he was gathering troops on the border? For military exercises? Everyone was so hesitant to support Ukraine and impose sanctions on the Russians. Today, the whole world is paying the price. Do not hold back.
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