A personal story from a native of Ukraine (Part I)

By Chuck Gibson

LOVELAND, OH (March 12, 2022) – We hear birds chirping, see flowers blooming, feel the warm spring air moving in, our Ukrainian brothers and sisters hear air-raid sirens, see missiles destroying their cities, feel fear, pain, and death in the bitter cold winter enduring a senseless Russian invasion of their homeland.

Ukraine flag. Ukrainian flag on black storm cloud sky. stormy weather (I-stock image)

They are the mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, family and friends of Ukrainian natives living right here in Loveland and surrounding communities. Today, Saturday, March 12, is day 17 of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. A young Ukrainian woman who lives and works right here in Loveland shares her personal story. To protect her and her family still in Ukraine, she will remain anonymous in this story. I met her through a friend in the first days of the invasion. Since then, I have met and talked with her in person three times and by phone on one other occasion.

She is in her middle 30’s, a very soft-spoken and polite woman. I visited her for the first time on Monday, February 28; her mother had already fled Kyiv, the capital city of Ukraine, to escape the dangers of the Russian invasion. Her sister remained home in Kyiv. Worry for both her mother and her sister was visible in her eyes.

“My mother is coming here Wednesday,” she told me. “My sister stayed in Kyiv. It is her home. I talk to her every day.”

She talks to her father too. He lives in Siberia, Russia.

“It is his home,” she said. “He is not leaving. He loves his home. He says it is too hot in Ukraine when he visits.”

She laughed a little when sharing that anecdotal story of his visits to Ukraine in the past. To protect his daughters and himself, there are things he will not tell her when they talk on the phone. She does not watch television here. She talks daily her sister, cousins and who remain in Ukraine to receive first-hand accounts of what is happening there. Her mother had arrived safely in Loveland by the time I visited again on Thursday, March 3.  

“She is here with me,” she told me. “She is not doing good. She has daughter, my sister, still in Kyiv.”  

They are not yet ready to tell their story here. They are worried. We have all watched the images on news and internet of the destruction by the Russian attack on Ukraine. She has heard the accounts first-hand from her friends and family as things have become more dangerous and desperate with each passing day of the invasion of their homeland. Clearly, it is not easy watching the destruction and worrying about loved ones in the path of danger. She manages a smile when describing Ukraine to me.

“It is size of four Ohio’s,” she said. “It is a very rich land of resources, beauty and animals.”

I spoke with her by phone Wednesday, March 9. I expressed my concern about her sister with the escalation of air assaults and the advance of Russian military toward Kyiv. The increasing volume of Ukrainians fleeing left me wondering if her sister had fled, or even if she had been harmed in any way.

“No, Kyiv is her home. She is okay,” she said. “She is making hats for the Ukraine soldiers.”

Her mother also has a sister in Ukraine. She is very worried about her and her daughter there. They stay in touch with what is happening through a network of Ukrainians here in Cincinnati. They are all sharing their first-hand news from family and friends who remain in Ukraine, or have recently fled. She added one other sad note about the community of Ukrainians and Russians here.

“We are one community,” she said. “But now some separate because of invasion.” 

I visited with her again on Friday afternoon, March 11. The fear and pain of what is happening in her homeland has wiped away any remnants of joy in her expression. She is very sad, very worried for the people of Ukraine. She asked me if I know what is happening in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol. The Ukraine air defense system that so far has protected Kyiv, did not reach Mariupol she told me.

“It is destroyed,” she said. “The people are trapped with no way out. They (The Russian military) won’t let the people out.”

Still her sister is in Kyiv; safe for the moment, but for how long? She says no ground troops had entered Kyiv as of Friday. For the first time since I met her, when I asked are you okay, her answer was no. She didn’t have to say it. You can see it in her eyes, and hear it in her voice. I feel her sadness. I think we all do.

Ukrainian flag on black storm cloud sky. stormy weather (I-stock image)

She is not alone. There are many others like her right here in our own communities. In Part II & Part III of this three part series, we will hear the story of Irina Davis, a native of Ukraine with family still there. We’ll also hear from a native of Poland, who has family there helping the Ukrainians who continue to flee from the Russian invasion of Ukraine.