Ukrainian-Americans in Texas are urging their fellow citizens and the United States to do everything in their power to help the people of Ukraine in their struggle against Putin’s invasion.
“What I would like to share with Americans is that we cannot sit still in doing nothing,” said Sophia Grinblat, executive director of the Russian Cultural Center – Our Texas. “Each of us can call their congressmen, can call to Texas senators to do something, to support more aid to Ukrainian people.”
Grinblat, who is from Ukraine but left when it was still part of the Soviet Union, primarily stressed the need for Americans to petition for a ban on Russian oil imports. “We need to stop buying Russian oil,” Grinblat told the Signal. “It will have a real influence on the Russian economy.”
Indeed, oil and gas are a major part of the Russian economy, accounting for 60 percent of the country’s exports and nearly 40 percent of its federal budget revenue in 2019. Although the United States only gets three percent of its crude oil imports from Russia, banning Russian oil would still put upward pressure on prices that were already high before the invasion. Thus, the administration was hesitant to place direct sanctions on Russian oil.
That changed on Tuesday when President Biden announced that the United States would cease all oil imports from Russia. One poll found that more than 70 percent of Americans were in favor of banning Russian oil even if it means higher gas prices and the White House was also facing significant bipartisan pressure in Congress.
“Today I am announcing the United States is targeting the main artery of Russia’s economy. We’re banning all imports of Russian oil and gas and energy,” Biden said in remarks. “That means Russian oil will no longer be acceptable at U.S. ports and the American people will deal another powerful blow to Putin’s war machine.”
While the United States will no longer import Russian oil, its European allies get a much larger share of their energy from Russia and likely won’t follow Washington’s lead.
Some advocates are also calling for a no-fly zone over Ukraine, similar to what the United States imposed over Iraq, Bosnia, and Libya. On Sunday, Ukrainian American Cultural Club of Houston, the Consulate General of Ukraine in Houston, and Htx4ukraine held a rally in support of a no-fly zone. However, the move is controversial and NATO has rejected it so far due to escalation risks, as enforcing a no-fly zone would mean American forces in direct combat with Russian air defenses and planes.
Grinblat was more reserved about a no-fly zone, citing the potential for a direct conflict between the United States and Russia. “All my friends in Ukraine ask our government to do a no-fly zone,” she said. “On the other hand, if American armies send rockets to Russian planes, Putin said openly that he will consider it as a war against him.”
Ordinary Texans are also trying to help in any way they can. The Russian Cultural Center has received an outpouring of support from neighbors and even a song titled “Stand with Ukraine.” The song was written and performed by Angleton resident Al Befeld, who wrote it after witnessing a Russian missile strike on the news. Befeld told the Signal a special connection to Ukraine due to his family ties to East Prussia (a former German territory not far from Ukraine) as well as his experience as an Army officer during the Cold War.
“My little contribution to the Ukrainian effort is a drop in the bucket compared to what they’re doing in Ukraine,” said Befeld. “I’m so proud of those freedom fighters sometimes I just cry.”
Befeld, who also writes songs about a variety of social causes such as the environment and social justice, is seeking like-minded musicians, singers, videographers, and filmmakers to assist his endeavors, including a second song titled “We Fight For Freedom For Our Ukraine”.
While Ukraine’s fierce resistance to Russian aggression has inspired the world, the question now is whether the support it receives will be enough to stop Putin. “A friend of mine in Vinnytsia said they believe in the United States, they are pretty sure that we will find the way to do something,” said Grinblat. “I don’t want to disappoint them.”If you would like to help the people of Ukraine, here is a list of organizations you can donate to.
Correction: a previous version stated that Al Befeld was an Army officer during World War II. He actually served during the Cold War.