I’m Ukrainian Living in the U.S. and My Terrified Family and Friends are in Ukraine. Here’s What I Want Every American to Know Right Now
By Veronica Grankina, as told to Meghan Rabbitt
“Please Mommy, stop crying,” my 5-year-old says to me with big, sad eyes. “I don’t like it.”
I don’t like how much I’m crying either, but I can’t help it. For the last week I’ve been glued to my phone, waiting to hear news from my family and friends—most of whom live in Kyiv and have been afraid for their lives and the fate of Ukraine since Thursday morning at 5 a.m., when Russian missiles flew over their heads, waking them up to a new reality.
I was born in Russia and my family moved to Ukraine when I was 9 years old. After graduating from the University in Kyiv, I came to the U.S. to get my master’s degree. While I was in graduate school in Philadelphia, my husband and I got married. He is also Ukrainian, and we both have a lot of family members and friends all over Ukraine.
For the past two weeks, as things started escalating, I called my family every day panicked, begging them to come here. I told them I would pay for it; the cost didn’t matter. But my family refused. They said, “There’s no way Putin will have the guts to attack Kyiv.” It’s a big, modern European city. Last Wednesday, everyone was drinking their lattes and working on their laptops. On Thursday, they woke up to war.
My family was able to leave Kyiv on Thursday morning and they drove for two days straight, headed for the western border. A drive that should’ve taken eight hours took 48 hours. The infrastructure isn’t built to accommodate that many people from all over Ukraine trying to get their families to safety, so it was very hard to find a place to stay and there was a lot of traffic. They also had no internet most of the time. Thank God they were able to turn on their geo location on their phones, so I was able to see them via the “Find My iPhone” function on my phone. That was the only thing kept me going—tracking them on my phone.
Luckily, my family was able to find refuge through our connections—a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend kind of situation. Evacuating Ukraine is incredibly difficult right now, so finding safety is a top priority. My family stayed in a safe place for a couple days, and now they have to drive again.
Once again, they are a tiny dot on my phone, moving on a map.
As I sit with my sadness and terror for the fate of our family and friends, I’ve been blown away by Ukrainian people’s unity and courage to fight off the enemy. I am also very impressed by President Zelensky and his leadership. What I admire about him is that he’s been able to stay there in Kyiv and fight alongside Ukrainians for our truth and independence.
So many people are asking me what they can do right now—what I want Americans to know. The first thing that comes to mind is that showing your support for Ukraine in any way is more powerful than you might imagine. Wear blue and yellow. Donate to a charity supporting Ukraine right now. Sign a petition. Protest. Drop off non-perishables, clothes, and essential hygiene items like diapers, diaper rash creams, and medical supplies to a donation center that will ship those items to Ukraine. Anything you can do to help—it all matters.
It’s also so important that we talk about what is actually happening right now and share accurate information to help fight the Russian propaganda that’s painting Ukrainians as neo-Nazis. Putin would have the world believe that he has invaded Ukraine because Ukrainians are persecuting and murdering Russians and Russian-speaking Ukrainian citizens. It’s absolutely insane; Russian is my native language and I have always been welcomed in Ukraine no matter where I traveled. Ask any Ukrainian how they feel about Russians or Russian-speaking Ukrainian citizens living in their country and they will tell you that we all lived in peace until the Russian army came to invade our homeland eight years ago. It is crucial we share this truth as far and wide as we can.
Finally, it’s important that we all know this: While Putin is in power, no one is safe. It’s unthinkable to me that a human heart is capable of the horror he has created. I don’t know how it’s humanly possible to be this evil.
I think that’s why this fight is so important. Putin is a threat to the world, not just Ukraine. Ukrainians are fighting not only for their country, but they are fighting for the democracy, freedom, and peace that we all want in this world.
My daughter just walked over to me and handed me a little box, wrapped in construction paper filled with her colorful scribbles. She tells me it’s a beautiful gift she wants me to have because she sees me crying.
My 5-year-old daughter is trying to do what she can.