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Southwest Florida rallies for Ukraine

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Lydia Bilous has pain in her knees.

But every night she kneels to pray for Ukraine, her home country.

“It’s painful but it’s not the pain that’s going through Ukraine. So I want to help with my pain, I’m with Ukraine,” Bilous said.

It’s hard not to feel her pain.

She sees Russians bomb her homeland, kill her countrymen and women, so she prays.

And she’s not alone.

“We pray that God will intervene and stop it,” said Viktor Antipov, senior pastor at the House of Mercy Church in North Port.

Ukraine is Anna Beach’s homeland.

“My kids bear Ukrainian names,” Beach said. “That’s where my, my thoughts, my traditions, my values were formed.”

Serhyg Pasishnyk, a professor at Florida SouthWestern State College who is Ukrainian, said the country does not deserve what it’s going through.

As the war rages in its second week, the world sees the bravery of those willing to die for its fight.

“They refuse to give up their home any more than anyone in America would want to move out of their house and give it up,” said Bohdana Puzyk, president of the North Port branch of the Ukrainian National Women’s League of America.

“I feel terrible of course and full of hatred and how dare you, why,” Pasishnyk said.

The United States is banking economic pressure will stop Russian President Vladimir Putin but so far, there is no sign Putin will order his forces to retreat.

“Nobody, until now, has had enough spirit to stop him, to slap him in the face,” Pasishnyk said. “Ukraine is the first one, so maybe this tradition will continue.”

In Southwest Florida on Friday, rallies broke out in support of Ukrainians fighting off Russian attacks.

At Gladiolus Drive and Winkler Road, many of the people participating say they had a parent or family member who fought in World War II and the thought of war scares them.

They feel protesting is one of the only ways they can show support from thousands of miles away. They said it’s about awareness and making sure people know what is happening.

“My heart goes out to the people of Ukraine,” said Fort Myers resident Connie Bevivno. “They seem like wonderful, peaceful, very brave, strong people. I don’t know what I can do. So coming out, dressing in yellow and blue, if that’s all it takes to show support, I’m thrilled to be able to do it.”

Karina Leisure is from Ukraine. Participating in the protest gives her hope.

“I came here to express my thankfulness for the United States,” Leisure said. I thought my heart will stop because I understand very well what is it.”

Leisure said she hopes there will be more military power because Russian President Vladimir Putin won’t stop with Ukraine.

“We live in one world and it will be over for everyone, not only for Ukraine,” she said.

“Every man in Ukraine now is there and they fighting until the last drop of their blood,” Leisure added.

In North Naples, at Airport Pulling and Pine Ridge roads, a group chanted and waved signs for Ukraine.

“Ukrainians in Naples, Ukrainian all over the U.S., nobody can sleep,” said Angelica Jones, a Naples resident who was born and raised in Ukraine. “What we can do is show that we are loving and kind, we never wanted, we loved Russians like brothers and sisters. But thank God we have the most amazing people here in Naples, even Russians they are here.”

Jones said her parents and family members are in Kyiv and they cannot evacuate.

She said she feels humbled by the support in Southwest Florida.

But one woman believes the United States can do more.

“I have demands for our government, and the demands are for us to close the skies over Ukraine,” said Vera Eliashevsky with the Kyiv Committee of Chicago Sister Cities International. “We have ground fighters. I am in contact with them every day, all day, we have volunteers, we have our forces on the ground and we need the United States and the world to shut down the airspace.”