Riverhead Town officials joined the pastor and parishioners of St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church outside Town Hall Friday afternoon for a flag-raising ceremony to mark Ukrainian Independence Day Aug. 24. (Photo: Emil Breitenbach Jr.)

Local Ukrainian-Americans marked the 23rd anniversary of Ukraine’s independence with ceremonies outside Riverhead Town Hall Friday afternoon, where the Ukrainian flag was raised and a proclamation commemorating the event was presented by town officials to the pastor of St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church.

Ukraine formally declared its independence from the Soviet Union on Aug. 24, 1991. Independence “enabled Ukrainians to reclaim their land from the oppressive Soviet regime and secure their territorial integrity and sovereignty,” according to the proclamation issued by Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter to the Rev. Roman Malyarchuk, pastor of St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church in Riverhead.

“We’re all emotionally involved,” church parishioner George Rakowsky said. Rakowsky said he and his wife emigrated from the Ukraine during World War II, just ahead of the arrival of the Red Army.

“I feel that it’s my duty to raise awareness among the American community,” Rakowsky said. “This past year we’ve probably experienced 10 years worth of normal history compressed into less than one year. And we don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. We’re really worried.”

“Today, after more than two decades of freedom and countless successes, Ukraine… once again endures a turbulent and often violent existence with the murder of hundreds of innocent people and invasion from its historical enemy, Russia,” the town proclamation said. “The citizens of Ukraine continue to risk and sacrifice their lives for freedom, justice and the attainment of a truly independent European Ukraine.”

“Whenever I travel, I get off the plane at JFK and I want to kiss the ground, literally,” Rakowsky said. “This is home.”

The flag has been raised for Ukrainian Independence Day in Riverhead for several years, Rakowsky said. It will continue to fly over town hall until Monday.

RiverheadLOCAL photos by Emil Breitenbach Jr.
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