Elena Kallevig was shocked when she saw news reports of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. She and the board members of the Russian Cultural Center in Minneapolis gathered for a meeting the next day to discuss the next steps in light of the impending war.

Kallevig said that they couldn't believe that Putin would move the troops to Ukraine.

Kallevig grew up with an appreciation for American culture. Her father had a large library and she loved Ernest Hemingway.

Kallevig was teaching English at a college in Russia when she heard about the death of one of her students who had recently been drafted.

He was beaten to death by his sergeant. She said it took him a month to die.

Kallevig left her home country and sought refuge in the West after her son was notified of his eligibility to register for the draft. After arriving in the U.S. in 1990, she applied for asylum and was granted it.

Kallevig and her son lived in New York City for eight years before moving to Minnesota. She and her late husband, Douglas Kallevig, ran the organization out of their Minneapolis home.

In the past, the RCC organized exhibitions, lectures, and performances to promote Russian culture in Minnesota, but in light of the passing of Douglas, and the rising tensions between the U.S. and Russian governments, Kallevig and the RCC board decided to suspend.

Zelensky talks about the horrors of war in Ukraine.

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The atmosphere in Ukraine and Russia during the Cold War

The conflict between the world's two nuclear powers, the United States with its Western allies and the United Socialist Soviet Republic with its satellite states, is the main event of the last half of the 20th century. The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 resulted in the end of the Soviet influence on Ukraine.

Taras Rafa was a teenager when the Cold War ended and he still hoped that the system would fall.

The woman who became his wife was the one who moved to the U.S. in 2005. He worked as a professor but now works as an engineer.

From a young age, Rafa and his peers never took training seriously. They went through bomb drills and warnings of a war with the West, but the real threat was closer to home.

We were more afraid of the Soviet government than the U.S., according to Rafa.

Roman Kovbas, 52, came of age under the Soviet Union while living in Ukraine. He moved to the U.S. in 1999 from the capital of Ukraine, and now lives in Minnesota with his wife and three children.

As a child, Kovbasnyk wasn't aware of how Ukrainians viewed the Soviets. He would observe his parents to piece things together.

Kovbasnyk said that his father would be making subtle remarks while watching political programs or the news.

The early years of Kovbasnyk were shaped by Soviet propaganda and militancy.

He was part of a group called the Pioneers, which was designed to raise kids who were followers of communist doctrine. He and his male peers would have to register for the draft if war were to break out, but Kovbasnyk never took the Soviet conditioning to heart.

He said he never had any respect for the Soviets when he was a kid.

After moving to the U.S., Kovbasnyk realized that the world had viewed the Soviet Union as Russia.

NATO military spending during the war in the Ukraine.

Ukraine remained steadfast

Kovbasnyk said that Ukraine has been its own country for centuries. Ukrainians were steadfast in their goal of independence despite being conquered by neighboring powers.

After World War II, many Ukrainians formed a resistance movement to establish a Ukrainian state, however, the effort was quickly stamped out and its members were forced to go into hiding. Taras' grandmother had to change her identity to keep her family safe.

He learned about his heritage through his family and read books that they were forbidden to own.

Radio news stations from across the border were interfered with. Occasionally, Kovbasnyk was able to tune his radio to hear music coming across the western border and listen to rock music.

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As the influence of the soviets waned in the region, there were several demonstrations that called for the independence of Ukraine. The consequences of taking part in public demonstrations were grave and secret police were often documenting and arresting those who took part.

The blue and yellow Ukrainian flag became a symbol of the nation's endeavor to achieve freedom when Rafa participated in these rallies.

He said that the first time he saw the Ukrainian flag was in 1988.

Before the rise of these demonstrations, Kovbasnyk had never seen his native country's flag. Showcasing the Ukrainian flag came with a prison sentence, so many Ukrainians avoided it until signs of the Soviet collapse became more common.

2 U.S. cities are helping Ukrainian sister cities.

When he first saw the flag raised, he was overcome with emotion.

A sense of kinship was created by the other young people who were at the forefront of the movement.

Everything just clicks. Everyone around you feels like your brothers and sisters, this is our country, and everything became one. He explained that United under this flag.

AFP/Getty Images

Ukraine is still fighting for its independence three decades later. This is the fourth time in Kovbasnyk's lifetime that his country has had to defend itself.

It has been the most difficult for him and a close friend who still lives in Ukraine. The call didn't go as Kovbasnyk had hoped.

He said that they had a conversation on the phone a few weeks ago and that he would not have another one with him.

The relationship between Russian and Ukrainian Americans has been strained in recent years since the invasion of Crimea. Family dynamics and friendships can be affected by differing opinions on political matters.

The Ukrainian and Russian communities in Minnesota had a long history of cultural collaborations. She believes that the Festival of Nations in St. Paul, Minnesota, which is used to showcase diverse cultures and foods, could be a way to foster understanding and bring about peaceful dialogue around the conflict here in Minnesota.

I think it would be great to have open community conversations. The virus is still here and people are still cautious.

Kallevig believes that people are more susceptible to misinformation from the Russian government because of the lack of conversation between the local communities. She believes that Putin is unaware of the truth as he is isolated from the world and his own people, and that she sympathizes with Russians who may be misled as to the motivation behind the invasion.

She said that people who have those beliefs can't be blamed. He's afraid of the people and he's afraid of the virus.

Lessons for the next generation

The lessons of freedom had to be learned as the Soviets began to loosen their grip on power. The younger generation of Ukrainians are fighting to defend their homeland and preserve its sovereignty.

It's hard to take freedom from a person who has never had it, and it's easier to take it from a person who has been free all their life.

People who value their freedom do not stay quiet.

Kallevig encouraged people to remember the family members of the young men being pushed to fight battles on behalf of their leaders with no end in sight.

Kallevig said that the tears of Ukrainian mothers and the tears of Russian mothers taste the same. I am praying for peace and the preservation of lives.

There is a writer and a film maker based in St. Paul, Minn. He writes about race, politics, culture, arts, education and technology.

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