Four cousins met for a late lunch Thursday at Kramarczuk's deli in northeast Minneapolis. It was a date arranged weeks ago as a pleasant outing to catch up on family news and enjoy a plate of Ukrainian piroshky.

But the meal was served with bitter news: the invasion of Ukraine, their ancestral homeland, by Russian troops under the command of Vladimir Putin.

"It breaks my heart. It's really sad," said Linda Zastawny of Robbinsdale, whose grandparents fled to the United States after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. "To think that somebody's going to walk in and take that country from them after they've worked so hard to make it beautiful."

"It's shock and sadness," said her cousin Bob Loyas of St. Anthony. "Watching it on TV and seeing it on social [media], it's just mind-boggling."

Across the Twin Cities, Ukrainian Americans reacted to the invasion with horror, sorrow and outrage. About 100 people gathered Thursday afternoon outside St. Constantine's Ukrainian Catholic Church in northeast Minneapolis, waving homemade signs and flags in the snow.

Many are in regular contact with relatives and loved ones in Ukraine, and they feel keenly the pain of what's happening in the country.

"I feel this ball of emotion in my upper chest. It feels like it will push out through the top of my head," said Stefan Iwaskewycz of Minneapolis. His parents came to the United States after World War II, a common theme among Minnesotans of Ukrainian heritage.

Iwaskewycz was speaking to relatives in Ukraine both before and since the invasion began. The difference, he said, is noticeable.

"I can hear the panic and the fear," he said. "The fear is real — it's not intellectual."

Iwaskewycz is knowledgeable about Ukraine, having lived there in 2004 during another time of upheaval: the Orange Revolution, when protests against corruption led to the presidential election being overturned. Putin, he said, is a master of disinformation, and it's critical that the truth be heard.

"It's very important for me to dispel the myths and the propaganda that Ukraine and Russia are connected," he said. "Ukraine and Russia are not brother nations. They are separate nations."

Luda Anastazievsky was born in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol. She asked that her current Minnesota residence not be identified, saying she's been the victim of cyberattacks and harassment for speaking out on Ukrainian issues in the past.

"Ukraine has never attacked Russia, never threatened Russia," said Anastazievsky, who is chair of the Minnesota Ukrainian American Advocacy Committee. "Ukraine is a sovereign nation that wants to make its own decisions about its future." Russia is "a rogue state," she said, and Putin is "a war criminal."

"The last time we saw such action was the Second World War, when another dictatorial ruler decided he had the right to redraw borders of the sovereign states in Europe and bring death and misery to millions of people," she said at the gathering outside St. Constantine's. "We cannot let this happen again."

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey joined the gathering, telling of his great-grandparents who left Ukraine when young and returned years later to find that many of their relatives had been killed.

Zina Poletz Gutmanis, a documentary filmmaker from Plymouth, is working on a film about Minnesota's Ukrainian community, including the impact of the famine in the 1930s, engineered by Russian dictator Josef Stalin, that killed millions of Ukrainians.

"Ukraine has been dealing with foreign aggression for centuries," she said. Gutmanis lived in Ukraine for several years in the 1990s and stays in touch with friends and relatives there.

"I had a call from a relative this morning," she said. "He's working in a different European country, and he can't get through to his wife and family. People are just stunned."

Gutmanis' parents also came to the United States after World War II, spending several years in camps for displaced persons before arriving here. Like many, her parents maintained a bond with their homeland.

"Ukrainian Americans do have a strong connection to Ukraine," she said. "They have a very visceral connection. People are upset, they're worried, they're angry. They're praying for peace."

Several Ukrainian churches in the Twin Cities have been holding services and offering prayers, making no bones about which side they believe is righteous.

"Dear Brothers and Sisters! A foreigner is coming to Ukraine!" read a prayer posted on the Facebook page of St. Michael's and St. George's Ukrainian Orthodox Church in northeast Minneapolis. "Send your heavenly legions, O Lord … to crush the desires of the aggressor whose desire is to eradicate your people."

A similar message came from St. Katherine Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Arden Hills, which asked its members to contact congressional representatives and urge them to provide Ukraine with weapons for defense in "Putin's war."

Immigrants and people with strong ties to a homeland can be badly traumatized by war, even if they're far from the fighting, said Saida Abdi, an assistant professor of social work at the University of Minnesota whose specialty is war trauma.

"You are watching the destruction of familiar places. You are worried about family and friends," she said. "And the sense of helplessness — you cannot do anything to help. It's really an amazingly traumatic event for people who are here."

Abdi urged people to resist the temptation to become glued to their TVs or computers, consuming war news 24/7.

"Try to continue your rituals and routines," she said. "Try to be with people who care about you. If you're feeling frustrated, scared and angry, be active. Maybe there are groups that are collecting donations. Make use of your religious and other community connections.

"Find ways to be constructive and find communities that support you."