A conversation with a Ukrainian student about the war

Yelyzaveta (Liza) Slabchenko is a foreign exchange student at Zeeland West High School and has been living in West Michigan with a host family since August of 2021. Liza shared her thoughts about her beautiful country, Ukraine, and what it’s like to be far away from home during such difficult times. 

Tell me about Ukraine.

It’s been an independent country for thirty years, since 1991. I’ll tell you about our flag. It is blue and yellow. Blue represents the blue sky and yellow represents fields. We have a lot of fields because we grow our own vegetables and fruits, and agriculture is our thing.

We have lots of big rivers and we have access to two seas, the Black Sea and Azov Sea. We also have the Carpathian Mountains. I’ve been there two or three times with my classmates. 

Our capital is Kyiv. I have been there many times. I have relatives who live there who I visit often. I like it but I don’t know if I would live there. There are millions of people. Our big cities have more flats and apartments than houses, though we do have villages. In our villages, we have fences and small gardens where we can grow our own vegetables and raise our own animals. 

The Ukrainian flag is now a symbol of solidarity with the Ukrainian people.

How did you first find out about the war?

It started February 24, and I woke up here at 6:30 in the morning, and the first thing I saw was messages from my mom. My mom texted me that morning and told me that the war started. I immediately asked them if they were okay because I didn’t know what was going on in my city, Kamianske, Dnipropetrovsk. But the first day it was just mainly military bases, and almost every big city that has military bases were bombed. 

I came up upstairs and saw on the news that there was an invasion of Ukraine. At school, no one asked me about it except for a few teachers. They asked me how my family was doing and I told them that they were pretty safe, until the bombing got closer to my city.

Every day my family can hear the bombing. The bomb shelters have been prepared for people with water and electricity. My mom packed bags for my little sister with documents, clothes, and food. My grandma was at work the first day and helped prepare a bomb shelter there. About 10 million people have left Ukraine, including some of my friends. 

I follow the president of Ukraine on Instagram and he posts every day about how it is going. He has met a few times with the president of Russia, but nothing has been decided upon. We also have an Instagram page for our city and people are reaching out to one another, meeting together, and cleaning everything. I have never seen our people so united. 

Slabchenko in traditional Ukrainian clothing.

Is your family safe right now?

Yes. There were two or three missiles above my city, but nothing has been destroyed yet. I heard from friends that there was something going on in Dnipro, the main city of our region. So I texted my mom and she told me that they had gone downstairs and they could feel the ground shaking and hear the sound of explosions. Sometimes, they even hear the sound of helicopters up above. 

Everything is closed, including schools, so everyone pretty much stays home. They have a curfew, and there can be no one out after curfew in the streets. My mom lives in a separate home and has her own basement that she prepared for shelter. But they still have online communication and alternative ways of schooling. They all have life despite the war. 

How are you feeling about living in America during this difficult time?

This is a difficult question because, in some ways, I would rather be in Ukraine right now with my family and friends. The unknown of what is going on is really hard. I keep texting them and scrolling through the news. But my family is glad that I am here and totally safe. 

How often are you in contact with your family and friends?

I text them frequently with general questions of “how are you?” I can see what is going on on the news and if there is something close to my family and my city, I will text or call them. But I also know if they are in the bomb shelters, there is no internet connection and I won’t be able to reach them. 

In what ways can we help?

Basic necessities are needed, especially for the people who are in the bomb cities who don’t have access to things like clothes, food, and medication.

It’s easy to feel helpless during this time, but there are many ways to offer support to Ukraine during this time. Donations are one simple yet important way to do this. Here are just a few of many organizations that are working to help the people of Ukraine. 

  • CARE, an international humanitarian organization, is providing food, water and other items to families fleeing violence in Ukraine. Contribute at https://www.care.org

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