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The Long, Rich History Of Ukrainians In Baltimore

BALTIMORE (WJZ) --  Ukrainian immigrants who made the Baltimore area their home decades ago reflect on what's happening in their country now.

"It just tears me all up, and the worst part is, I feel helpless. I can't do anything about it," said Orest Poliszczuk.

He was born in the Ukraine and came to the United States by ship in 1949 at just 7 years old.

The Poliszczuk family lived on a farm in Cockeysville for a year to work off their travel obligation, as so many other Ukrainians did across Maryland. After their work was finished, the family moved to Fells Point.

According to Preservation Maryland, Fells Point along with Patterson Park, Canton and Curtis Bay were among the most common communities for Ukrainian immigrants to resettle.

"It really begins in earnest in the 1870s-1890s. That's when we see the largest influx of Ukrainian immigrants to Maryland and particularly to Baltimore," said  Nicholas Redding, the organization's president and CEO.

The Ukrainians had established a church on Wolfe Street in Fells Point, but the congregation eventually outgrew it.

A new spiritual home was built in the 1990s: the iconic St. Michael the Archangel Ukrainian Catholic Church by Patterson Park.

"I get goosebumps every time as I approach it from different parts of the city," said Poliszczuk.

Baltimore and America as a whole became a beacon of hope for other immigrants, including Victoria Clausen.

"I was just turning 21, I couldn't bring my parents and I didn't have my education finished yet, so I prayed a lot about it," said Clausen.

With $100 in her pocket, Clausen had to find work immediately after coming to the United States.

"I saw an opening in a flower shop in downtown Baltimore," she said.

There, her passion for floral arrangements bloomed and soon after, she was able to open her own shop.

"It was definitely difficult. I won't deny, there was a lot of tears," she said. "But the way I was brought up, quitting wasn't an option."

As the community watches the war in Ukraine unfold before their very eyes, people such as Clausen and Orest can't help but think of their friends and family who remain in the war-torn country.

She's now using her 20 years of experience as a florist to draw in donations for her people, selling arrangements and accepting Venmo donations. The money is going directly to those in need, including new and expectant mothers.

"Ukraine is always going to be my home, but Baltimore, Maryland does feel like home," she said.

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