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Tucsonans with personal ties react to Russian invasion of Ukraine

Ihor Kunasz (left) and Pat Willerton spoke with KGUN 9 Thursday about Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Posted at 11:25 PM, Feb 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-25 01:33:57-05

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Even on the other side of the world, there are several Tucsonans with personal ties to Ukraine and Russia.

Two of them spoke with KGUN 9 on Thursday following Russia’s attack on Ukraine—each with a unique perspective on what led to the invasion. But both agreed it is a devastating outcome.

Ihor Kunasz was president of the Ukraine American Society of Tucson from 2006-2014. He says he and his wife “didn’t sleep” after news of the attack broke Wednesday night.

“In Kyiv there is no special panic, but the road to the West is totally clogged with cars,” Kunasz said, reading a message from an acquaintance in western Ukraine. “Shops, banks, railways, public transit is free.”

Kunasz has family in western Ukraine.

University of Arizona political science professor Pat Willerton has been studying Russia for decades. He spent a year living there before the fall of the Soviet Union.

He says he understands Russia is viewed widely as the United States’ enemy, but he personally does not have the same “deep-seated hatred” for the country that others do.

“This is a tragedy, this is a true tragedy,” Willerton said of Russia’s invasion. “On the other hand, I would say this was completely predictable, but it was avoidable. This did not have to happen.”

Both men were surprised to see a widespread attack of Ukraine instead of a focus on the country’s separatist, pro-Russia regions.

Kunasz sees that as an attempt to restore the Russian Empire.

“This is the same imperial-minded people,” he said. “And they will stop at nothing.”

Willerton says it’s about NATO and Western influence in Ukraine interfering with Russia’s security interests.

He compares it to the U.S. threatening the Soviets with war over the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, when the Soviet Union answered American missile deployments in Europe with their own missiles in nearby Cuba.

“[Russia doesn’t] want any other country, a rival country or group, to be stationing troops or be aligned with Ukraine against them,” said Willerton, who believes the conflict will not stretch further into Europe.

“I guess you should never say never, but we’ll say almost never chance of them attacking one of the Baltic countries, Poland, this sort of thing,” he said. “Of course, these are NATO countries. This gets us into a war, and they don’t have any desire for this.”

Kunasz believes Ukraine will be able to hold off the Russians.

“I think the Ukranian [people] are very resilient, and they will put a hell of a fight,” he said.

Thousands of Russians have protested the attacks by their home country.

Despite those protests and global opposition to Russian president Vladimir Putin, Willerton says Putin still has the respect and support of most Russians.