Crisis in Ukraine hits home for two NDA exchange students
By Nick Bumgardner
GREEN BAY – In the early hours of the morning on Feb. 24, as dawn broke in Eastern Europe, Russian tanks rolled across the frozen plains of Ukraine.
As Ukrainians awoke to a cacophony of gunshots, explosions and air raid sirens – two Notre Dame Academy (NDA) students – Vlada Klymenko, of Ukraine and Milana Volkova, of Russia – watched helplessly from thousands of miles away as war erupted in their homelands.
Klymenko, a Ukrainian with family in Kyiv, said she has now lived through war twice, first with Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and subsequent civil war in the east, and now with their invasion in 2022.
“I don’t remember how I felt (in 2014), because I was little, but I have a really clear memory about being at school and hearing all the explosions,” she said. “This time feels much scarier, when I’m so far away from my family and I don’t know what is really happening.”
Klymenko said her family is still in Ukraine.
“They are safe for now,” she said. “At night on Feb. 26, they heard shooting, but they were in a safe place. There was information that they won’t have internet or data to get in contact with anyone, but this hasn’t happened. They usually try to text as much as possible, because they know that I’m nervous.”
Volkova also shared concern with the situation.
“I, as a Russian, understand the situation and the reasons why our president has started the war,” she said. “It’s a long history and the roots have been growing from the Soviet Union’s collapse. All I can say is that Russian people don’t want war with Ukraine, don’t want the Donbas, and don’t want Crimea. We just want justice and peace inside our own country, but I don’t know who in the whole world would even listen to us at this point now.”
Volkova said watching the news of what’s happening is saddening.
“It is heartbreaking to see that something like this is possible (nowadays),” she said. “I wish people lived in peace, and no one knew about war,” she continued.
As exchange students at NDA, Volkova and Klymenko have become friends.
The pair spent much of Sunday, Feb. 27 participating in an anti-war rally outside the Resch Expo in Green Bay, characterizing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion as a result of “politics.”
“It’s not about people between both countries,” Klymenko said, “but more about politicians that can’t agree and decide how to live in peace. So many people from Russia are against Putin, and they try to help Ukraine as much as they can.”
As the war rages on, their future in the U.S., and in their respective home countries, is in limbo.
Both hope to reconnect with their families soon, but are prepared to hold out here if nothing changes.
“I still have three months in America, and hope that in this period of time it will get better, and I can (go) home,” Klymenko said. “If not, I am sure I can stay with my host family as long as I need to. I haven’t talked about (going) back with my parents yet, but they are glad that I’m here and I’m safe. They would come here if the borders weren’t closed.”
Volkova said she doesn’t know how the war and all the sanctions against Russia will affect her future here at NDA.
“I don’t know how my life will turn… If I will be back home and see my parents, but I really hope that I will be able to continue education in NDA and be back next year,” she said.
Dozens more joined Volkova and Klymenko at the peaceful rally Sunday afternoon in a show of solidarity with the people of Ukraine.
Among them was Yulia Barstow, who came to this country from Ukraine 22 years ago.
Both of her children were born here, and 13 years ago, her mother, Lyudmyla Aharkova, came to live in Green Bay, close to her daughter and grandchildren.
“I still have family and friends in the Ukraine,” Barstow said. “They are in very hot zones. They are being bombed even as we speak. So, if you’re wondering how you can help, there are different ways. If you pray, pray for Ukraine. If you can donate money, please do so. Educate. Tell the world what’s going on. It’s a big deal. It doesn’t affect only Ukraine. Educate others.”
Press Times Staff Writer Josh Staloch contributed to this story.
Ukrainian help drive
In response to the humanitarian need generated by the war in Ukraine, the students of NDA have help organize a Ukrainian Help Drive March 7-25
Supplies needed include:
• Long underwear and underwear
• Baby Essentials including baby food, diapers, wipes
• Medical supplies
• Gloves, bandages, first aid kits, garbage bags
• Warm Clothes
• New or used clothing
• Hygiene items
• Toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, antibacterial wipes, sanitizers
• Dry/non-perishable foods
• Dry foods for children’s orphanage in Donetsk
• Granola bars, cereal, etc.
• Sleeping bags and mats
• Blankets and pillows
• Women’s products
• New or used coats, hats, gloves, mittens, socks, raincoats
Monetary donations are also being accepted.
All donated items will be trucked by a Ukrainian-American volunteer from Green Bay to Chicago. From Chicago, Meest (Ukrainian Postal Service) will fly to Poland, truck it into Lviv, Ukraine and personally distribute it.