As some of you may already know, I was born in Ukraine, in a city called Kharkiv. My mother made the difficult decision to leave the country in pursuit of a better life for the two of us in America, and at 5 years old, I became an immigrant on the other side of the world.
When Russia invaded Ukraine, I was flooded with memories, revealing Ukraine’s significance in my life. Every trip I’d ever taken, every family member I’d met, studying the Russian language year after year. Every moment I’d ever spent with my family, sitting across from my cousins, bringing them gifts from America, big suitcases filled with requested items to make their lives a bit easier, bear hugs from my grandmother. Every memory kept flooding to the surface, hitting me like a ton of bricks, all mixing with my present reality of being an American, safe and privileged, watching the war from afar. I realized through this process that it takes the threat of losing your home to recognize its significance in your life.
Since the start of the invasion, many of you have lent your support. Due to shock, I have had little to say back. Although it still pains me to write about Ukraine, it is also true that the Ukrainian people, their history, and the current war are far bigger than my feelings. I want to share with you all a small snippet of my memories of Ukraine and a few charities you can donate to if you’re so moved.
I was 16 years old when I traveled back to Ukraine. I can still remember arriving at the airport, stricken by the unusual uniforms of the soldiers with badges of sky-blue and yellow flags sewn into the jackets, their serious young faces protecting the country they call home.
On that trip, I reunited with my grandmother, uncle, cousins, and aunts, along with all of my extended family members. Over the course of several weeks, I traveled Ukraine from top to bottom, visiting more family members along the way. Starting in the north, in Kyiv, I walked through the 1500-year-old city, admiring the myriad of architecture like Saint Sophia’s Cathedral and Maidan Nezoleshnosti (“Independence Square”), the winding cobblestone streets of Andreevski Spusk, and of course, ordering loads of delicious pastries from street vendors.
We continued our travels to my grandmother’s home in Novaya Kahovka, a city built seemingly overnight during the Soviet era. My grandmother lived in the same one-bedroom apartment her entire adult life. 50 years’ worth of memories in that small, stale space. But as a child returning to her roots, I always remembered it as somehow warm, familial, and full of little treasures passed down from generation to generation.
Moving further south to the countryside, we visited Lazurne. I stayed in my great-aunt’s house, where photos of Stalin and Lenin and other historical memorabilia adorned the walls. I was stricken that the house had no electricity. Pumping water from a well left my younger self with a deeper insight into the things I had already taken for granted moving to America.
I’ll spare you all the details of my later comings-and-goings, where language, culture, and family were my focus and so important to me. But instead, I would ask you to reflect on what it means to you: to go back home. Because when the war began in February, it dawned on me that my internal strength is not somehow special or unique to my upbringing, but rather, it is rooted in the foundations of my home.
Many people have reached out to me over the past few months offering a listening ear and support and have asked how you can help. I have been speaking to cousins of mine who are currently displaced in Lviv after their towns were destroyed. They have told me that donations to the following charities can go a long way: Prytula Foundation and United 24.
In addition, I am personal friends with the Ukrainian co-founders of The World for Ukraine. They are a small (team of two!) non-profit group based in South Carolina, sending large monthly shipments of medical trauma kits and other medical supplies.
If you feel moved to help, it would mean so much to my family and me to know we were part of the fight and helped in some way.
Thank you for reading!