GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Ukrainians living in West Michigan are marking a year since the Russian invasion, calling for continued military and humanitarian support from the United States and European allies.
Valeriia Bevzenko-Green moved to Grand Rapids, where her husband is from, just months before the invasion on Feb. 24, 2022.
“Sometimes it’s really scary and it’s hard to realize that everything what’s going on there,” she said. “Some of my friends, they are in army, they are fighting and it’s hard because you always worry about them and sometimes it’s like weeks or even month when you don’t know what’s going on with them and where they are, if they are safe, healthy.”
She has a friend who has been a prisoner of war in Russia since April.
“The first news that he was alive and he’s there, his mom got when it was July and it was really emotional,” Bevzenko-Green said.
Her friends and family have endured power outages throughout the winter as Russia attacks Ukraine’s infrastructure.
“Nobody complains a lot because everybody knows our fighters are in the worse position than everybody else,” Bevzenko-Green said.
She is from Cherkasy, a city in the center of the country. Her friends and family welcomed the news of President Joe Biden’s visit with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy earlier this week.
“Everybody was surprised but I would say happy that president of U.S. decided to go and actually went to Ukraine and it was a big deal,” Bevzenko-Green said.
The U.S. and its European allies have pledged to send tanks and ammunition, support she says is crucial.
“I think a lot of Ukrainians are grateful for help. I hope that military help and humanitarian help will continue,” she said.
She is classically trained in dance and will be soon be teaching children through Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation. She is unsure when she will be able to visit her family.
“For one side, I really excited to go to Ukraine, help people and be around my family, finally hug my parents and my friends. From another side, I’m really scared to see what’s happened to people,” she said.
‘SUPPORT IS STILL POWERFUL’
Oleksandra Soltinska and her daughter are continuing their work to send medical aid from Grand Rapids to help soldiers and civilians.
“You can’t even explain this feeling, how awful it is,” Soltinska said.
The family started collecting supplies like pain killers, tourniquets and bandages right after Russia launched its invasion.
“The support is still really powerful,” Soltinska said.
Supplies are being collected and brought to Chicago, where they are flown to Poland and then sent to Ukraine. Soltinska’s church has bought two buses that are being converted to treat the wounded.
“Buy this buses in Poland, transfer to Ukraine, painted, remodeling everything and take right away to the front line,” Soltinska said.
Her family members still in are not deterred by power outages. They remain stalwart.
“It’s tough but they manage. They always figure out what to do,” Soltinska said. “I’m 100% we will win.”
She said Biden’s surprise visit to the country to meet with Zelenskyy also helped strengthen resolve.
“They did some talking and signed some papers about the help, which is amazing,” Soltinska said.
As concerns grow over Americans’ interest in financial support to the country, she says people should know the battle for Ukraine is crucial for protecting democracies around the world.
“They will go to other country, little by little,” she said. “They will know if you take easily Ukraine, nobody can do nothing.”