by: Stephanie Coueignoux Updated:
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The world continues to watch the Crimean Peninsula in Ukraine Monday. Russian President Vladimir Putin has stationed military forces there, and some wonder if this is a prelude to war.
In Charlotte, the close-knit Ukrainian community is worried what this could mean for their families still living there.
Anastasiya Mauriello lives in the Charlotte area. The rest of her family lives thousands of miles away in the city of Odessa, Ukraine.
She said it’s hard for her to watch what’s going on in Ukraine.
“The helplessness. Just being on the sidelines and watching this situation as it unravels and gathering the information like everyone else from different sources and not knowing who to believe," she said.
Mauriello said her family lives not far from Crimea and people living there have already started seeing Russia's influence.
"I got a message from a friend of mine who said over the city administration, the flag was changed from Ukrainian to Russian," Mauriello said.
She said her family's savings are in U.S. dollars. Those accounts have been frozen. These are changes Mauriello said her family doesn't fully understand, but they now worry war with Russia could be next. She said it’s hard to know what’s really happening as Russian media claims one thing and Ukrainian media claims another.Mauriello spoke with her mother Sunday night.
“She was extremely worried and panicked and worried for my brother who is only 24 years old, who could possibly be drafted into the army for a ridiculous war that shouldn't happen in the first place," she said.
Meanwhile, because of this political unrest, the Department of State is warning U.S. citizens to delay any nonessential travel to Ukraine, especially the Crimean Peninsula. The travel warning cites group protests, roadblocks and occupied government buildings.
Mauriello said she was supposed to travel to Ukraine in February for her grandmother’s funeral, but had to cancel those plans. She doesn’t know when she’ll be able to see her family next.
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Ukrainian church members in Charlotte
Many people in Charlotte are keeping a close eye on the problems in the region.
Several members of Saint Thomas Aquinas church in Charlotte came to the Queen City from the Ukraine, and still have relatives there.
“They are just as concerned as you and I and everyone else with what's going on with Russia specifically,” said one member. “We pray for them. We are praying for all of those people over there.”
Church leaders said one family from the congregation just moved back to Ukraine last year.