Here Back East

By Lenny Ackerman

Conversation with a Son of Ukraine

One of my paralegals, Simon, hails from Ukraine. He and his wife Viktoriya, also Ukrainian, have lived in the U.S. for 15 years, and during that time have traveled back and forth to visit their family members in Ukraine, many of whom have also visited here. I spoke with Simon yesterday about the terrible events unfolding in his home country. He shared with me some of what he has learned from his family who are living through it and how he, and the local Ukrainian-American community here, are responding to the crisis.

When the war started in Ukraine, all the national television networks agreed to combine their efforts and limit broadcasting to one station at a time. Should one be attacked, it would fall to the next station to continue broadcasting throughout the country. So those with power and a television can still receive independent news and miraculously, the internet is still available, allowing Simon to communicate daily with his parents, who describe the harrowing changes to their formerly peaceful city.

Simon’s parents, residents of Kherson, the capital of the Kherson region in the south, are an elderly couple who have been for the most part trapped in their home, fearful of venturing out due to the presence of the volatile Russian soldiers who roam the streets, apparently under no command. They have neighbors and friends who for now manage to bring them food and other essentials. In Kherson, as in other areas of the country, many of the local residents regularly take to the streets, protesting the occupation despite the constant threat of assault and, when the tension heightens, being shot in cold blood by the occupiers. There is also the ever-present risk of shelling. His parents report that humanitarian aid, both for those remaining and those seeking to escape, has been hampered by the Russians with roadblocks and attacks on people in vehicles. Food and medical deliveries have been delayed or destroyed. Farm equipment has been sabotaged, preventing the village farmers from preparing for spring planting. The mayor of Kherson is still in charge of government affairs, though the occupiers are trying to take over administrative power, including recent attempts to organize a so-called “referendum” to declare the Kherson region an independent republic (much like what happened eight years ago with Donetsk and Lugansk, the two eastern-most regions, and in Crimea). At the street level, local Ukrainian vigilante groups have formed to deal with many of the occupying Russian soldiers, mostly young men, who have taken to getting drunk and aggressive, harassing and attacking local residents.

Simon and I spoke by zoom, he from our office conference room, I from my home office in Florida. I could see he looked tired, eyes darkened by lack of sleep. Wearing a green, military-style t-shirt, Simon resembled President Zelensky. He spoke seriously and his attitude was quietly steadfast as he described what his family are enduring. Simon has two little girls who he hasn’t seen much of lately, since he has been spending weeknights and weekends shopping for and packing up shelf-stable foods and emergency supplies. He delivers the items to his church where he works with his fellow parishioners packing up and organizing the donations for shipment via air transport from Newark Airport to Poland. His hope is that some of it will reach his family.

A few of Simon’s relatives were able to flee, travelling by bus and and train to Slovakia where Simon’s brother, a doctor, is providing housing and support for family members as well as refugees.

At the end of our conversation, Simon and I agreed that it may just be a matter of time before the Russian people see through all the lies and propaganda. Once they realize their government’s grievous actions against their neighbors to the west, they will rise up. The day of reckoning must come.

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