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'We are begging': Congressman Joaquin Castro hears pleas for support during roundtable discussion with Ukrainians

The Texas congressman plans on urging President Joe Biden to consider social and cultural sanctions as Russian forces intensify their assault on Ukraine.

SAN ANTONIO — Congressman Joaquin Castro expressed a need for bolstered sanctions against Russia during a roundtable meeting with members of San Antonio’s Ukrainian community Friday afternoon.

The meeting served as an opportunity for Castro (D-Texas) to hear from local Ukrainians about the ongoing conflict triggered by Moscow’s invasion more than a week ago.

Russia’s invasion has resulted in the devastation of cities, hundreds of lives lost and a humanitarian crisis, prompting 1 million refugees to flee Ukraine, according to the United Nations.

“I know that they’re speaking in very desperate voices, because a lot of them have family members that are still there,” Castro said.

The congressman explained how the U.S. is imposing severe economic sanctions on Russia, which includes financial restrictions on the wealthy oligarchs.

Castro noted there are talks of establishing a humanitarian corridor to streamline the flow of refugees leaving Ukraine and into neighboring countries without the constant threat of being caught in Russia’s military crosshairs.

He’s currently working on proposing additional sanctions that go beyond punishing the wallet of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Myself and a Republican from Missouri, Ann Wagner, are asking the president to do everything he can to help impose not just financial sanctions, but social and cultural sanctions, making sure that sporting organizations and other American organizations (and) international organizations aren’t doing any kind of business or work in Russia,” Castro said.

Viktoriya Lundblade grew up in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, which has a population around 1.5 million people. She brought with her to the roundtable a postcard sent by her mother in 2004. 

The card is embedded with a collage of pictures showcasing the city’s rich culture and landscape.

“You see (a) so-beautiful city, gorgeous trees, people dancing,” Lundblade said.

Lundblade said she fears for family and friends in Ukraine who are fighting to survive the chaos of war as Russian forces rain down artillery strikes on the city she once called home.

“Right now, the city is destroyed. It’s bombed, they’ve bombed it every day,” Lundblade said.

Olena Tsalyk is among the leading members of the nonprofit organization Ukrainian San Antonio. She’s hoping Castro, Washington lawmakers and President Joe Biden hear their pleas for support amid Ukraine’s darkest days since World War II.

“We are begging: Please, please stop the genocide of Ukraine and Ukrainian people,” Tsalyk said.

She stressed there’s a need for even more economic sanctions in an effort to cripple the Russian economy and halt Putin’s aggression in Ukraine. But she added sanctions are not enough to stop the invasion and bloodshed.

“We are asking to have a campaign to get people from Ukraine—(help) refugees to go to Europe, to the United States a lot easier,” Tsalyk said.

She also highlighted the urgent request for the U.S. to provide continued military and humanitarian support.

“We need fuel, we need humanitarian aid. People are getting sick,” Tsalyk said.

Castro said he intends to convey the message of support and peace from San Antonio’s Ukrainian community to his colleagues on Capitol Hill.

Ukrainian San Antonio is holding a demonstration at Alamo Plaza at 3 p.m. on Saturday. To learn ways you can help Ukraine, click here.

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