CALEDONIA, Mich. (WOOD) — Life prior to Feb. 24, 2022, for Iryna Wells and her family was good in Ukraine.

Wells and her husband had good jobs and lived in a nice apartment in Kiev. Their kids went to good schools, played sports and participated in other after school activities.

“Our life was full, our life was the fullest. Everything we could dream of,” she said. “People ask me, ‘What did you lose?’ Well I always say, ‘It didn’t lose it. It was taken away from me.’”

This month marks the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Some 2.9 million Ukrainians have fled their homeland, including the Wells family, now living in the basement of her in-laws in Caledonia.

Iryna Wells speaks with News 8 about Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Iryna Wells speaks with News 8 about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The buzz of text alerts sent to their cell phones woke Wells, her husband and three children on the night of Feb. 24, 2022.

It was a night that would change their lives and the lives of over 43 million other Ukrainians. 

“We heard all these messages … the war started, the war started, the war started,” Wells said. “It was on the news. Everybody talked about emergency backpacks and, ‘Make sure you have the documents and make sure you have money.’ But none of the Ukrainians that I know believed it would actually happen.”

Iryna Wells and her family. (Courtesy Iryna Wells)
Iryna Wells and her family. (Courtesy Iryna Wells)

The Wells family fled Kiev.

It was a harrowing escape aboard a packed, darkened train, first to Poland by way of Slovakia and eventually, to her in-laws’ home in Caledonia.

In the year since the invasion, Wells no longer measures time in days or weeks.

It’s measured in lives. 

“Children, friends, family. And with time, with months … there’s bigger and bigger circles of those we mourn,” Wells said. “There’s only one question. How much more? How many more do we need to lose? How many more do we need to mourn to get that victory? “

Wells is worried more these days than she did at the start of the war.

Its winter in Ukraine. Heat and power have been disrupted in much of the country.

And the Russian attacks continue.

Two family friends were killed in just the last two weeks.

There are rumors of a large Russian assault planned for some time around Feb. 24, 2023.

But there is also resolve among the people of Ukraine.

“This building is the building by my kid’s school. It was the building that was hit on the very first night,” Wells said as she held side-by-side digital photos of the building, one showing the destruction that occurred during a missile strike the night the war broke out, the other of the rebuild.

“Regardless of the war, regardless of exhaustion, regardless of everything — we repaired it. We put it together, every single balcony. And people are moving in,” she said.

That resolve is part of the message Wells has delivered as she shares her story with groups throughout West Michigan.

“We will not give up. We will win this war. With support we will win it faster,” Wells said. “But this is what Ukrainians are about.”

She’s also worked with St. Michael Ukrainian Catholic Church to raise funds for much-needed ambulances and other rescue vehicles. 

Those who wish to donate may send a check to:

St. Michael Ukrainian Catholic Church
154 Gold Ave. NW
Grand Rapids, MI 49504