For a man with local ties, the photos and videos of Russia’s brutal attack on Ukraine hold special significance.
Don Masura is a second-generation Ukrainian-American. Although he was born in the United States, raised around Detroit, he still identifies strongly with the native country of his grandparents.
“My grandparents immigrated to the United States,” he said Tuesday afternoon. “Both sides of my family…from the Carpathian region of Ukraine.”
Growing up in the northern parts of the United States, he said he had many friends who were immigrants – friends would easily identify with their Polish, Italian or Spanish ancestry. Masura, however, was unable to freely tell people that he was Ukrainian.
“I was raised not being able to talk about my heritage,” he said. When he was growing up, Masura said most Americans saw Ukraine as part of Russia because it was under the control of the Soviet Union.
“Telling people that you were from Russia or that you were of Russian origin… wasn’t smart. People didn’t like Russians. Instead, his parents told him to tell friends he was Austrian.
As he matured and aged, Masura said he wanted to learn more about his true heritage, and three years ago he was finally able to visit Ukraine, spending time in the capital of Kiev.
“It was a life-changing experience. I saw people who looked like my cousins and uncles. Although he had never been to the country, Masura said “everything was familiar. Ukraine itself is an absolutely beautiful country. I stood in the central square. I could see the golden domes of the churches. There were flowers everywhere, people were friendly and it was clean. People were happy. I can’t tell you how loving and kind everyone was.
Masura, a member of the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce and one of its volunteer ambassadors, is a small business owner, operating his own High Point-based consulting firm, The Threshold Performance Group. He said it was gratifying to finally see his family’s homeland, to connect with people and places in Ukraine.
“Seeing the same streets I walked on, filled with war, breaks my heart,” he said. He also worries about his loved ones. While his immediate family is entirely in the United States, Masura said he had a cousin who immigrated to the country of their ancestors, married and made their home there.
“I’m worried about him,” he said, adding that he had been unable to contact his cousin in recent days.
He has other friends there who have emailed him and others outside the country describing what is happening.
“They said how scary it was,” he said of the emails. People there have to go to extreme lengths to stay safe.
“An example is that people hide underground. One said there were 1,200 people hiding in an underground station and the only toilet they had was a bucket, and yet they weren’t complaining,” he said , expressing his admiration for the Ukrainian people. “They find a way…they’re hungry, they’re scared. Families are separated. Yet they fight, with all they have.
Although Ukraine may not be perfect, Masura said during his visit three years ago that he had spent time talking with many young people. He said they were happy and optimistic about their future, that Ukraine continues to find its own identity after generations of domination by Russia, the former Soviet Union, and before that by various empires. who controlled Eastern Europe.
Some of this history, especially recent history with Russia and the Soviet Union, is on display in Kyiv’s Town Square.
“I walked through a park that was the equivalent of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC,” Masura recalls. There, among memorials and museums was the story of Stalin, the leader of the Soviet Union, who would starve the people of Ukraine and elsewhere in his empire – just to keep them in line. Masura said there are memorials there to many people who died as a result of Stalin’s brutal treatment.
And now Russia is invading its neighbor again, apparently targeting both soldiers and civilians.
“They haven’t given up hope,” he said of the Ukrainians he is in contact with. “That’s what they need from the rest of the world, prayers and support so that they don’t lose hope. They have already lasted three or four days longer than everyone thought.
Masura said the country’s ability to delay the Russian takeover he said gave the United States and European countries time to better coordinate their response. He fears, given the superior numbers of the Russian invaders, that the nation will eventually fall. This does not mean that the war will be over.
“It is a culturally rich country. People there are stubborn. They love their country in a way we find it hard to understand, that they would line up with sticks and stones to fight someone to save their country.
“Depending on how it goes, it will turn into a guerrilla situation. Russian troops don’t want to be there…there will be a lack of stability. I don’t think that Russia will be able to take control of Ukraine and lead it, because the people will not allow it.
Masura hopes that sanctions and other actions from the rest of the world, combined with fierce resistance from Ukraine, will convince Russian Vladimir Putin that the war is not worth it, that he will withdraw his troops.
Regardless of the end result, he said the response from Ukrainian residents should be a lesson to Americans.
“He’s a great example of people who love their country. You may not always love your government, but you can love your country.