- Veronica Vaughan
A Ukrainian-American family’s untold story
Updated: Jan 27
A Ukrainian-American family sat in their home and listened as Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, declared a “special military operation,” which left them physically ill for almost two months and in fear for their relatives back home in Kyiv.
“We are not against Russia; at this moment we are understanding the conflict is not between Russia and Ukraine, the conflict is between somebody who hates people and who puts them against each other,” Vladimir, the father, said.
Originally from Kyiv, their family moved to the U.S. in 2020. Now, they speak to the crisis of the Russia-Ukraine War as it affects their family from afar.
Despite being on the other side of the world, they faced the reality that their extended family and friends are still in Ukraine.
In February, Putin announced he would be conducting a “special military operation.” Vladimir explained how he and his youngest daughter were so devastated by this announcement that they felt physically ill for over a month. Many Ukrainians shared a similar reaction; despite knowing that it was inevitable that Putin would attack Ukraine, there was no amount of preparation for Ukrainians fearing the long-anticipated war the family explained.
The family sat in shock while watching the news on the war that was affecting their friends and family.
Vladimir, originally from Crimea, lived in the states before his family immigrated to America in 2020. The family of five traveled around the U.S. over the next two years and landed in Brooklyn, New York. Dasha, Vladimir's daughter, 20, enrolled in school to pursue the newfound opportunities America had to offer.
Dasha noted how Ukrainians have a gleaming sense of openness and hospitality, something she missed in her new home. Despite the cultural differences, the family found their place and began their new lives as Americans.
The five revisited Ukraine a mere two months before the war began. Around New Year's Day, the family noticed a sense of wandering depression in the streets of Kyiv as the people anxiously awaited the war.
The country’s fresh anxiety and fear had created a shift since the last time the family was there.
It was no surprise to this family and many Ukrainians alike that Russia was eventually going to attack. During their two months back to their homeland, Tamara, the mother, noted how people were already setting up camp and preparing by the border to escape Ukraine as soon as possible.
The same night Putin announced his “special operation,” a text was sent from family back in Ukraine that the bombs had hit near their home and they had to go into hiding in the safest, deepest part of the house. Dasha explained how her friends fled to their old high school and lived for the next two months in the basement with hundreds of others.
Devastation arose, but unity transpired. Countries all over the world sent aid and volunteers to Ukraine. Protests and marches filled the yellow and blue decorated streets.
This new reality changed the way this family viewed the world. Not only were they in New York City experiencing major political uproar, but they also realized how unusual the world’s reaction to the crisis really was.
“It’s important for American people to never fall for a certain side. If you pick a side you’re already on the wrong side,” Vladimir added.
They resented the overreaction of the media and how the press’s role in making their people look helpless and weak. Their family members, men and women who remain in Ukraine have joined the Ukrainian army to fight back, including one of Dasha’s friends.
Vladimir noted how the media has “softened American minds towards Ukraine.”
He thought it was peculiar how there were no on-going major protests and marches when the Syrian or Georgian war broke out. Media attention during those wars were nothing near the attention on this war. The father expressed how the media underestimated just how strong the Ukrainian people are.
“Ukrainians are the craziest people ever,” Vladimir explained.
Tamara told a story about the time she was in Crimea in 2014 when the first seize happened. She was leaving the city when the car in front of her was stopped by mercenaries and asked everyone to exit the car. The people refused, which ultimately led them to all getting shot. This was the harsh reality people in eastern Europe commonly faced. If not the physical damage, the fear of that happening was tormenting.
Many Ukrainians are striving to find a home in all corners of the world. According to The Operational Data Portal, by Sept. 7, more than 7 million Ukrainians had left the country and fled to other European cities. This rapid surge of immigrants has greatly impacted the world. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, it is estimated that around 8 million refugees will have evacuated Ukraine by the end of the year.
In October, there will be a new law implemented in which women will be restricted from leaving the country and be required to complete military registration.
During the first few months of the war, there was haunting resentment towards Russians coming from all sides. The family explained how they and many others alike stood completely and only for Ukraine. Over time, they came to realize the unjust game that was being played with both Russia and Ukraine.
Vladimir explained how they are trying to be optimistic, but not disillusioned by the optimism. He believes Russia put its best foot forward too quickly and is now facing the consequences of it. He also understands the power and control Russia has, not only over neighboring countries, but also within the workings of our world.
“A lot of Ukrainians believe in the victory,” Tamara expressed.
By Veronica Vaughan