Yana Kurenko remembers wearing a vyshyvanka, an embroidered blouse decorated with Ukrainian ornaments, on Ukraine’s Independence Day in her home country.
As Russia invaded Ukraine, the 28-year-old Westminster resident ordered two new ones – one for herself and another for her boyfriend – to stay connected to her culture.
Kurenko moved to the United States nine years ago from Ukraine to learn English at a school in California. Her parents remained in her home country, but she’s trying to help evacuate them due to the recent Russian invasion.
“Every day I’m asking, ‘Are you guys OK? Is it quiet there?’” she said.
She communicates with her Ukrainian parents through Skype, messaging every 30 minutes. While she is in Colorado, they remain in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital city.
Evacuating family members miles away with only phone access is difficult, she said. Her mother is 57, and her father is in his 70s. She did not want to say their names for their safety.
Their age makes the effort especially troubling because moving can often be difficult for them. She said her mother almost had a heart attack while trying to relocate to a bomb shelter.
Her parents are relatively safe in Kyiv due to the fact that Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy lives in the country’s capitol city. The military is directing most of its effort to protecting Kyiv, Kurenko said, to keep him safe.
But she worries about the Russian army targeting civilians as they flee to safety. Even though Poland is welcoming Ukrainian refugees, her parents plan to stay in Ukraine unless the city issues a mandatory evacuation.
“You never know when the bomb or the rocket (or which) place will be attacked from the sky,” she said.
Men age 18 to 60 cannot leave the country because they are required to fight, she said. Many soldiers outside of Ukraine want to join, but their military does not have enough weapons for them.
“I am worried about my country every single day. It’s like you have to be on the phone all the time,” Kurenko said. “And I honestly feel very disappointed that Russian people don’t understand what is going on. They’re too brainwashed.”
She points to the government controlling the media and censoring information.
Kurenko was born in Russia and then moved to Ukraine at age 7. She remembers living there.
“It’s just depressing,” she said.
Her mother worked four jobs and still barely made ends meet, Kurenko said.
Her mother went to school for eight years to become a doctor but, like everyone else in the country, was grossly underpaid.
As to why, Kurenko points to greed and corruption in the government, which is parallel to why she thinks Putin invaded Ukraine.
“He was always regretting that the Soviet Union fell apart, and in the eastern part of Ukraine, we have lots of resources,” she said. “He clearly wants that as well.”
Russian citizens will feel the pain too. She explained how Russia’s economy continues to take hits from global actors and watches as companies shut down their supply chains in the country.
As to who will win the war, she remains hopeful.
“Russia will not take over Ukraine,” Kurenko said. “Ukrainian people will never give up. They rather die than they give up.”
For those interesting in helping Ukraine, she recommends joining a Facebook group called Ukrainians of Colorado — HELP UKRAINE.
“That’s insane, that something like this can happen in this world (in) the 21st century,” she said.