SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. (NEWS10) — 31 years after Ukraine declared its independence from the Soviet Union, the country continues to fight to retain that independence, which local Ukrainian-Americans say carries a new meaning.

“Now it’s just worrying to see what happens. The Ukrainians here in America are using this day for fundraising because we just have to support the people there,” explains Dr. Andrij Baran, chair of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, Capital District.

While celebrations in Ukraine were scaled back for fear of Russian aggression, especially in the capital of Kyiv, in Saratoga Springs, NYRA hosted “Ukraine Day” at the track. Fans were encouraged to wear yellow and blue as well as being treated to traditional song and dance in an effort to raise awareness about the war.

“We feel so helpless being here. I was born in America but I have family there, cousins and nephews. Everyday I don’t know if I’m going to get a call saying a rocket hit them,” says Dr. Baran. “They’re hiding in underground bunkers. Unfortunately, it’s fallen out of the news cycle here because other things have come up but over there, nothing has changed.” 

Typically, Ukrainian Independence Day is celebrated with concerts, festivals, fireworks and of course, perogies. This year, Lydia Obydonkina, who fled Ukraine nearly three months ago, says her family tells her a different noise filled the sky this Independence Day. “In my city there were four air raid sirens so you must always run to basements. You cannot be outside. My mother was like no, no we are not celebrating this year.” 

Lydia was able to find a sponsor here in the Capital Region to escape Ukraine. As the war continues however, there are more refugees than people willing to sponsor them. “A lot of people who didn’t want to leave are now ready to come over because of the events going on and like she was saying, the air raids everyday,” explains Lydia’s sponsor Jenn Moak. “It’s a hard way to live and winter is coming with power outages and no hot water, it’s going to be a little tricky.”