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Russian speakers in the U.S. monitor the war in Ukraine closely

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

As Russia's unprovoked war on Ukraine continues, people in the U.S. with ties to the region are watching closely. Many immigrants from the former Soviet Union live in New York City. Zach Hirsch visited one neighborhood where some of them still speak Russian, but their hearts break for Ukraine.

ZACH HIRSCH, BYLINE: On a cold afternoon in the Forest Hills neighborhood of Queens, shoppers are filing into Gastronom International Market looking for Eastern European, Russian and kosher foods.

Lisa Aronova says she's sick about the war. She came here from Uzbekistan about 30 years ago. She gets a lot of her news and information from Russian media, and she's appalled by what she's seen.

LISA ARONOVA: They are lying, lying. Everything whatever they say, it is all lies. The normal, regular people who live there, they don't get all that information what we have.

HIRSCH: Aronova says she prays for peace every day.

ARONOVA: When we make war, no one wins ever. It is even from history we know that. But people don't get that.

HIRSCH: In this neighborhood with a large population of Bukharian Jewish immigrants who left the former Soviet Union because of religious persecution and isolation, a lot of people do get it.

Emil Gold is originally from Ukraine.

EMIL GOLD: So many people die for nothing just because one stupid guy in Russia, people dying, children dying, animals dying. It's terrible.

HIRSCH: Gold doesn't have family back in Ukraine. But he's keeping an eye on the news out of Odesa, his home city. Right now they're trying to maintain some semblance of normal life while bracing for a full-scale Russian assault.

Eli Blokh is the rabbi at the Chabad of Rego Park, and he founded the Jewish Russian Community Center here. He says when things feel really bleak, it's important to counter that by doing good in the world.

ELI BLOKH: It's a generosity of spirit. It's generosity of thought. It's generosity, obviously, of action. The main thing is really sort of to channel that into empathy.

HIRSCH: Blokh says that includes empathy for Russian people living under Putin. He says lots of people coming to synagogue are distraught, but just about everyone he talks to is looking for a way to help. And that's giving him hope right now.

For NPR News, I'm Zach Hirsch in Queens. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.