Wilton's Yaryna Anderson (center), her husband Todd and daughter Sofika visiting Ukraine before the COVID-19 pandemic. (photo: Yaryna Anderson)

“It still doesn’t seem real.”

Yaryna Anderson has been in the U.S. since 1993, coming here as a high school student after growing up in Lviv, Ukraine. She moved to Wilton in early 2021 with her husband, Todd, and their young daughter, but she has many immediate family members still in Ukraine directly affected by the conflict.

“I can’t believe it. I still feel like it’s just a dream of some sort that isn’t happening,” Anderson repeated. “It [would be] like we woke up tomorrow and they said Russians are invading New York. It’s that unbelievable.’

Although Anderson said it’s not a complete surprise that Russia would make incursions into eastern Ukraine, the scale of Russia’s invasion has been shocking to her Ukrainian friends and family.

“No one could have predicted,” she said. “The eastern parts of Ukraine, yes. [People] anticipated that [Russia] would try to invade physically, forcefully — just go in and invade eastern parts of Ukraine. But no one, no one, could have ever predicted that they would be attacking from various locations, and especially, the capital [Kyiv] in central Ukraine, and even as far as western parts of Ukraine.”

Committed to Action

While Anderson says some family and friends have fled the besieged area, many have remained in place — including her father and other relatives who are in Kyiv.

Dad is like a captain of a ship. [He] won’t leave and will go down with it,” she said. “The rest of the family can’t leave, because it’s impossible to move [a disabled family member] safely.”

Anderson described reports from her father, who is in his early 70s, about street fighting and frequent explosions. He told her he believes he may be the only person remaining in his apartment building.

She also talked about a cousin, a professional photographer, who has volunteered with a group of “defenders”.

“We hear from him every 2-3 days,” Anderson said. “[He] sleeps little, on a cold floor, [with barely] enough food. [He] can’t tell us where he is stationed, just that they are guarding one of the important structures.”

“It’s so hard to know where the safety is,” she continued. “Obviously, Poland will be much safer, but it really depends on your risk tolerance.” Anderson gave an example of a close friend who decided to stay in their home with five children, the youngest at just eight months of age.

Anderson marveled that everyone is doing something.

“I don’t know a single family who doesn’t have its able members volunteer on the front lines,” she said. “And the rest take in refugees, help medics or feed soldiers.”

“Those are the people who win the war. It’s people who are not panicking, just working,” she continued. “They’re helping in any way — cooking, delivering stuff, trying to figure out where to get [medications]… [making] these nets for the army… just helping any way they can.”

What’s driving every Ukrainian is something deeply embedded in their hearts.

“I think it’s almost part of our DNA when it comes to freedom,” Anderson said. “Everyone feels like it’s their mission to go and protect the country… maybe because it was taken away from us so many times.”

The Ultimate Mission, Despite an Uncertain Future

Anderson says there is a difference between stopping the invasion and winning the fight.

“Winning this war for Ukrainians means perhaps this war can really set a precedent… If you have a country going against another country to just destroy it, wipe it out… it is just not acceptable.”

She believes something larger is motivating Ukrainians to keep up the resistance.

“Ukrainians are on this mission not just [for] peace or the end [of the invasion], but really to win this war, to show that this will not be acceptable for the future. [If] you wage a war like this, the entire world will hold you to account.”

Staying optimistic is hard, especially from afar. She’s heard many anecdotes that all point to an uncertain outcome for the people and country of Ukraine: a friend who works in a museum packing up artifacts for protection; the difficulty of finding food and medications; and Ukraine’s less-powerful military capabilities, for example.

And with the flood of news coverage, the “new reality” of just how dire the situation is is starting to hit Anderson.

“On a much on a different scale, it’s a little bit like during COVID, where all of a sudden you realize there’s a new reality,” Anderson reflected. “At some point, you think to yourself, is this my new life? Is this forever? Is this going to just smolder and smolder, and [Ukraine] will just become this dangerous place where that’s the new reality?”

“It really is a war between David and Goliath,” Anderson pointed out.  “No matter how you slice it, you have David. I don’t quite imagine the scenario where [the Ukrainian] military can take over. We can’t quite compete… I don’t know for how long Ukraine can survive.”

Anderson’s pain is evident even as she searches for hope.

“A month or two ago, we got tickets to go [to Ukraine] in July,” she said. “You know what? I mentally cannot cancel those tickets yet.”

Communication Is a Lifeline

“One of the things that we are extremely lucky about is the internet service,” Anderson said. “I can’t imagine if the internet goes down.”

If the internet or cell phone service were interrupted, Anderson fears not only loss of contact with her father, but the inability for news and communications to flow both in and out of embattled locations.

Anderson’s family members have come to rely on “good morning” and “good night” messages. She posts nightly on Facebook with family updates, inspiring messages, and her own hopes and fears.

One poignant post quoted a poem by Taras Schevchenko, a celebrated Ukrainian poet and cultural icon whose writing often reflected themes about freedom.

“It’s terrible to lie in chains,
To rot in dungeon deep,
But it’s still worse, when you are free
To sleep and sleep and sleep…” (poem published in Selections, 1961)

Ways To Help

Razom, a 501(c)(3) established in 2014 to improve democracy and human rights in Ukraine, is one organization Yaryna has come to trust. (Note: Razom received the second-highest “gold” rating from the non-profit watchdog GuideStar. Razom has not been evaluated by Charity Navigator.)

GOOD Morning Wilton has also compiled a list of organizations with a Wilton connection that are responding to the crisis. We will continue to update this list.

Another nearby aid organization is Stamford-based AmeriCares, where Wilton’s Martha Kennard is vice president of global program operations. AmeriCares is an NGO that responds to emergencies and disasters around the world, focused on providing access to medicines and clinical services to people in crisis. On its website, the organization’s March 2 update reported an emergency response team had immediately been mobilized in Poland to provide relief for Ukrainian refugees.