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Ukrainian Church in Santa Barbara County is hub of support for war-torn homeland

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - News Channel 3-12 has a follow-up to our report on the Korniichuks, a family from war-torn Ukraine now safely living in Santa Barbara County.

The Korniichuks joined their relatives here about a month ago. Their four daughters are now enrolled in local schools and several members of the community have made generous donations to help the family of six.

Their arrival happened thanks to their relatives, who played a critical role in getting them to safety.

Support is also coming from a congregation of mostly Ukrainian immigrants who gather at the Ukrainian Evangelical Baptist Church, near Goleta, twice a week. Many of the members pray for protection and peace for their bombarded homeland more than 6,000 miles away. They also pray for an end to Russia's invasion.

"I left the Soviet Union 27 years ago," said Mikhil Smiyun, pastor of the First Ukrainian Evangelical Baptist Church off Turnpike Road. "Just uh, when the Soviet Union broke."

The Smiyun family moved directly to Santa Barbara.

"I've been in the country since 1968," said Walter Polowczak. "So, it's been a long time. I was born in Ukraine and came to this country when I was 12 years old."

The Polowczak family originally moved to Chicago. Polowczak himself had an incredible journey – that's a story for another time, if he's willing.

"Most of the members of this church came from Rivne," said Polowczak. "So that's close to the heart of where you want to support. We're trying to figure out just like everybody else, what's the next step? We're gonna have to be working on two fronts, not only in this country but also in Ukraine."

Both men have relatives in the war-torn region.

"In terms of brother against brother, that's essentially what it is," said Polowczak.

Smiyun has two brothers fighting in the Ukrainian army. He said he is in constant contact with people in Ukraine and across the state of California, working through the churches.

"To look at what's happening right now in Ukraine, it's heartbroking. That's the first thing. And yeah, according to the bible, according to our belief, it's evil. It's evil to kill. It's evil to react like that."

Polowczak is more involved on a national level. He likens the invasion to almost the biblical story of Cain against Abel.

"This is the 21st century! In the middle of Europe, all of a sudden a country attacks another country. And not only that, it attacks its own neighbor! You know, for years it calls it its 'Younger Brother.'"

Polowczak just returned from one of several recent humanitarian trips to Poland.

"I think so far we've handled well over 10,000 people and over 200,000 meals were served."

He finds the logistics of helping more than four million people - half of them children - "mind-boggling."

"Remember, they are human beings, too. We realize the mental impact could be for years."

Smiyun said that a growing need for more volunteers and a lack of fuel are key challenges right now in Ukraine. He also said that currently there is a major focus on helping refugees in the Donbas region.

The pastor is asking the community to continue praying, especially for the coastal city of Mariupol, which has suffered an especially brutal takeover during President Putin's Russian invasion. It is now in Russian hands.

According to the Associated Press, hundreds of Ukrainian fighters who just surrendered after holding out for months during a valiant and punishing battle at the steel factory, are now registered as a prisoner of war (POW).

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Beth Farnsworth

Beth Farnsworth is the evening anchor for KEYT News Channel 3. To learn more about Beth, click here

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