Home Features Unbreakable: A memory of Ukraine

Unbreakable: A memory of Ukraine

Unbreakable: A memory of Ukraine
Anastasia Dmytrenko volunteers in Ukraine Photo credit: Anastasia Dmytrenko

Anastasia Dmytrenko said goodbye to her parents on Feb. 23, 2022, before boarding a train that would take her away from Kyiv and her parents, and to a church young adult conference in West Ukraine.

Dmytrenko recalls that tensions were high in Kyiv on Feb. 23, 2022 — rumors about the impending conflict seemed to multiply.

“I didn’t want to think about it, believe in it,” Dmytrenko said.

Dmytrenko’s mother, usually cheerful, was anxious to see her daughter go. The family made a plan to meet in the western part of the country if Russian forces moved into Ukraine.

“I told my mom, ‘Everything’s gonna be fine, nothing will happen, I will return back home in five days — everything’s gonna be fine,'” Dmytrenko said. “… I left my home without any idea that I would return back at all.”

According to a casualty report on statista.com, as of Feb. 26, 8,101 Ukrainian civilians lost their lives, and 13,479 people have been injured since the war began.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reports that over 8 million Ukrainians have sought refuge in other parts of Europe.

In April 2022, the U.S. established a sponsorship program called Uniting for Ukraine. This program allows Ukrainian citizens to come to the U.S. for a two-year period on parole.

According to an article published by CBS News on Feb. 24, “So far, more than 115,000 Ukrainians have arrived in the U.S. under the sponsorship program.”

Since 2012, 473 Ukrainians have come to Idaho — of those arrivals, 75% came in 2022.

On March 22, 26 days after the war between Ukraine and Russia began, Idaho welcomed its first wartime parolee. Since then, over 300 Ukrainians have come to Idaho seeking asylum.

In the fiscal year 2022, over 20% of the refugees coming to Idaho came from Ukraine.

Ukrainian citizens, here through the Uniting for Ukraine program, have settled all over the state. However, most parolees have stayed in the Boise area.

The Ukrainian Welcome Center in Nampa, Idaho aids Slavic refugees with parole case management and sponsorship education in the state of Idaho.

Tina Polishchuk, director of the Ukrainian Welcome Center, says the center handles two to three new cases a week.

Communities across Idaho have given their time, resources and talents to help those who have been affected by the war.

In Pocatello, a Ukrainian woman collects warm clothes and lights to bring to the refugees and Ukrainian people in Europe.

In Ada County, community members donate furniture, helping furnish apartments and living spaces for new Ukrainian families.

Rexburg for Refugees, an organization based out of Madison County, has encouraged clothing donations and canned goods.

In August 2022, Dmytrenko made her way to the U.S. to study at BYU-Idaho. Her American host family welcomed her to the U.S. in Salt Lake City. Since, she has spent holidays and school breaks hanging out with her American parents and siblings, however, not a day goes by where she does not think of her family back in Ukraine.

A five-day young adult conference turned into a two-week shelter. It took her parents three days — typically an eight-hour trip — to get to their meeting place in Lviv, Ukraine.

A university student at the National Technical University of Ukraine (Igor Sikorsky Kyiv Polytechnic Institute), Dmytrenko studied robotics in her hometown. With unreliable internet and a significant distance, she put a pause on her education and threw herself wholeheartedly into volunteering in Lviv and helping with refugee and war efforts.

Volunteering was Dmytrenko’s saving grace in the months that followed their move to Lviv. Between making humanitarian packages and visiting hospitals, she was able to make life-long friends and contribute to the war effort.

On Feb. 24, 2022, the war between Ukraine and Russia began when President Vladimir Putin of Russia announced a “special military operation,” that included Russian armies moving into Ukraine.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine responded the same day, “No one will be able to convince or force us, Ukrainians, to give up our freedom, our independence, our sovereignty.”

In the past year, the Ukrainian people have stood by their leader. Dmytrenko watched as three close friends joined the army, while other friends endured hardships inflicted by the war.

“When it’s about your country, about your culture, about what was made by your people … it just can’t be given away,” Dmytrenko said. “It’s something that you have to fight for.”

Dmytrenko decided the best way for her to follow her leaders’ counsel would be to pursue and obtain an education. Dmytrenko currently studies nursing pre-licensure at BYU-I.

Coming to the U.S. to get an education isn’t typically easy for international students, and the war in Ukraine made the process even more difficult for Dmytrenko. Bomb sirens, destroyed cities and unreliable communication made the task of renewing a passport, obtaining a Visa and traveling to a useable airport complicated.

Two months after leaving her parents to attend the young adult conference, Dmytrenko made the trek back to Kyiv to obtain her renewed passport. While there she visited her home, a 12th-floor apartment in the middle of Kyiv. Dust had settled on the old furniture and cabinets.

“You know when you come to your house, it always kind of smells like home,” Dmytrenko said. “It smelled like nothing.”

To get her Visa she had to take a bus across the border to Poland.

In August she said goodbye to her mom and dad, unsure of when she would again see them in person. On a flight from Warsaw to Amsterdam to Salt Lake City, she made it to the U.S. determined to get an education so that she could return to Ukraine and help her people.

“I would say that it’s (Ukraine is) never-ending and it’s very, it’s really uplifting,” Dmytrenko said. “Unbreakable. We are unbreakable people.”