Ukrainian EWU student worries for friends, family in her home country

By Jazmine Reed, Contributor

Amidst the devastating Russian attacks taking place in Ukraine, Daniela Symonenko knows she cannot go back to her home country.  She  cannot go back and hug their loved ones while they are afraid. She just has to remain in the U.S. and worry.

Symonenko, Eastern Washington University senior, is one of thousands of Ukrainians watching their country under war from afar. She first found out about the attacks from her mother who also resides in the U.S. 

“My mother’s best friend called her at 4 am from Ukraine, telling her in a very frightening voice that she heard the sound of bombing not too far. And that she has to get her mother who is 80 years old from the city of Zhytomyr… they barely made it back in time.” 

Born in Vorzel, Ukraine, Symonenko has discovered that the hospital she was born in is demolished. The street that she and her family used to drive to church on is in ruins. And the fate of her homeland is unknown.

Constantly in a state of worry, Symonenko is always checking her phone and cannot focus on her school work.

 “I don’t want to check the news because it always brings me sadness, but I just can’t help it because I have to know if Kyiv is still there,” she said.

Daniela Symonenko

She is able to contact close friends and extended family on a regular basis. 

“Some of them are still hiding from frequent bombing in basements, and some were actually able to cross the Ukrainian-Moldovian border”, she said. 

Symonenko has an aunt in Germany to help find them shelter for now. A major problem is that men between ages 18 and 60 are not allowed to cross the border, leading many of her friends and extended family to be divided. 

Although for the most part Symonenko has been able to contact her loved ones, there was one day where she thought she had lost contact completely. 

“Turns out that because their city was being bombed, some Russian soldiers came to their home and took over their house for a night. They took all of their phones and locked them in one place. However, God kept them safe,” she said. 

After one day, the soldiers left without hurting them.

 “Our friends didn’t have a way to contact us anymore, but because everyone in Ukraine was ready to help, one of the neighbors lent them their phone,” she said.

Symonenko lived with her whole family in Ukraine before coming to Cheney. She lived in the city called Bucha and later on moved to Irpin, next to Kyiv, the capital. Now, both of these cities are in ruins. 

Symonenko took photographs of her home in Ukraine. (Daniela Symonenko)

“The school I went to, the house we lived in, the stores, and the hospitals are all gone”, she said. 

In such trying times for Ukrainian students, showing support can go a long way. 

“My classmates in one of my morning courses gave me a nice card today, showing their support,” Symonenko said. 

That same day, she went to West Plains Roasters for the first time. The barista who took Symonenko’s order complimented the scarf she was wearing. She told him that it was part of traditional Ukrainian clothing.

Before Daniela left, the barista gave her a gift card. Symonenko said it made her day. 

“Although I was sad, it brought me a little happiness that day,” she said.

Symonenko is a part of the EWU Orchestra. 

She said, “my orchestra professor gave out today new sheet music of the Ukrainian Anthem that we will play next week at our orchestra concert. To show solidarity to Ukraine. This means a lot to me.”

She is in disbelief that these attacks are happening in the 21st century. 

“I can’t help but feel angry at myself for being safe here while they are there trying to survive,” she said. “But I am proud of my country for standing firm and am grateful to God for giving them the strength.”

(These are all photos taken by Daniela the last time she was in Kyiv, Ukraine)