The first days after Russia invaded Ukraine, Iryna Voloshyna was in shock.
Born and raised in Ukraine, Voloshyna often cannot find the words to describe the brutal attack on her homeland.
“Honestly, I have no more words to describe all the atrocities, all these crimes against humanity that we see every day on the news, on social media,” she said. “It’s just amazing. I don’t even know how to describe it.
The 34-year-old has lived in Ukraine all her life until five years ago when she attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on a Fulbright scholarship. After earning her master’s degree from UNC in 2019, she spent a summer as an intern at the Folklife Center at the Crandall Public Library in Glens Falls.
She is currently in her second year of doctoral studies. student and associate instructor at Indiana University.
Voloshyna’s parents, sister, sister’s husband and their two children still live in her hometown of Khmelnytskyi in the western/central part of Ukraine.
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The town is not actively bombed, but there is a small military airport about an hour away which has been bombed several times.
The threat of a Russian attack has been in the air for almost a year, since Russia began deploying troops near the Ukrainian border in April 2021.
“No one would simply imagine that Putin would dare to attack a central European country so blatantly in 2022,” she said. “It’s just amazing. It’s so heartbreaking.
Voloshyna’s father works as an electrician at the regional hospital. The patients have been evacuated to a shelter and her father is responsible for ensuring the shelter is equipped with electricity and generators.
“There are already a few babies born in the shelters,” she said.
Her sister served at the refugee center, which is in a public school building. There are thousands of refugees in his city.
“It’s impossible to find an apartment anywhere,” she said. “When people arrive, sometimes they share an apartment with strangers because they need to be somewhere.”
When Ukrainians faced a Russian threat in 2014, the country united in patriotism, she recalled.
“It was just an incredible moment of unity when people came together to help each other, to volunteer hours and hours of their time, money and resources and just everything,” Voloshyna said. “So now it’s the same – it’s much worse of course – but it’s the same program that everyone who can do anything will do it.”
She applauded the leadership of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, a leader she neither supported nor voted for.
“However,” she said, “in the situation we have now during the war, he shows himself to be a very brave, very brave, very loyal and very intelligent and wise leader.”
She said the invading Russian soldiers were either misinformed or lied about their mission. During a propaganda campaign, Russian troops learned that they were there to liberate Ukrainians from the Nazi regime.
“They see people aren’t happy to see them there, they don’t meet them with flowers and smiles,” she said. “They’re just very confused, and a lot of them surrender.”
She said that Russian troops are not stopping, but losing the fight. Ukrainians have a huge sense of patriotism and love for their homeland.
“Ukrainian army, they fight like lions,” she said. “We protect our territory. We do not occupy anyone. We fight for the truth, for our freedom.
Voloshyna tried to help online by collecting information about refugees trying to leave Ukraine, mostly women and children. His cousin’s wife and two young children left for Poland. But his cousin cannot leave because he is between 18 and 60 years old.
She translated press articles from Ukrainian into English for the public and gave interviews to various local media. Indiana University held three protests and a vigil and sponsored a series of lectures on Ukraine. There were also workshops for K-12 educators on how to talk about Ukraine in the classroom.
“If the people of Glens Falls think this war shouldn’t happen, they should write to their representatives, they should support the Ukrainians and their protests,” she said. “Donations are very important.
Voloshyna also asked everyone to pray.
“Soldiers on the front line, they say they feel God’s support,” she said. “It is very important to ask God for justice and peace.”
Gretta Hochsprung writes features and news from her hometown. She can be reached at 518-742-3206 or [email protected]