Ukrainian exchange student tells her story

Anna Chop spent time with third graders at Kingsland in 2017. Anna was an exchange student from Ukraine, living with host family John and JoAnn Glady.
Photo submitted

By Phil Hebrink

We have all seen millions of people forced from their homes in Ukraine. It’s one of their stories.

Anna Chop attended Kingsland High School in 2016-17. At 16, she was an exchange student from Ukraine, with the FLEX program, which means she got a scholarship to come to the United States for one school year. His foster family was John and JoAnn Glady of Fillmore. I was his coordinator. She made many friends during her time here, and many have stayed in touch with her. In 2018, my wife Jane and I traveled to Kyiv, where Anna has just started school, to visit her. His mother Tatiana, who lived in Zaporizhzhia, far to the east, also met us there. Anna is now in her final year of college, writing articles and doing internships.

The first news I got of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was in a message from Anna: “You are about to hear disturbing news, but I want you to know that my mother and I we’re fine, and we’re not panicking.

Over the next few days, we received these messages. Anna shared, “I am currently in the underground shelter at our campus in central Kyiv with my roommate and other students. We have a few days of food in my emergency pack, and I am as safe as possible, in I was expecting it to be more crowded, but a lot of people have already left town. I managed to sleep through the night, so I’m proud of myself. Putin doesn’t know how to what he pledges, we will not accept any ruler or puppet government that he puts here.The Ukrainian government is not inaccessible, we can and we will overthrow it, again, if need be.

“I have no doubt that we will persevere, the Ukrainian nation is so strong right now, I love us so much.”

If you remember the news from early March, it was filled with tragic scenes and people were fleeing west. The Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant was attacked and burned.

Then we received this message, on March 3rd. – “I am still in the bunker located on the grounds of our college campus. I am here with my classmates. We call ourselves an unofficial “military unit”. haha. We made a lot of friends here. Currently, most of us have no intention of leaving, it’s our city, our home, they can’t have it! There were many offers to evacuate, but few left. We are about 60 to 70. The dean of the university visited us, we are not forgotten. We venture outside once in a while and do our own shopping, there is no humanitarian crisis in kyiv or in the city center. When there is no anti-aircraft alarm, we can go up whenever we want. Many who are no longer here have given permission to use the washer and dryer, to use the kitchens and supplies. Everyone helps everyone. We painted a big map of Ukraine with all the regions where people come from, we put our names on the towns and villages. We also write famous Ukrainian poems and songs, and install Christmas lights and a big flag. We play games before bed, almost everyone comes down at night, because that’s when they’re most active. We’ve been living here for a week now, so the discomfort is gone. Chemistry students make Molotov cocktails and give them to our homeland defense teams, we donate blood and volunteer for military kitchens.

Then a week passed, and we heard nothing. We watched the news, looking for her, following the progress, still in disbelief that this was happening, hoping she lived through the night, or the day, or whatever. I should mention that we had also been in contact with our Russian students. They were all horrified by the events in Ukraine, they know the official story is a lie, they don’t support their leader, but there is nothing they can do about it. Many have family in Ukraine. Many are trying to leave the country, but it has also become very difficult.

Phil and Jane Hebrink visited Anna Chop in Ukraine in 2018.
Photo submitted

Then this message, March 9. – “I can receive your messages, thank you for your support. It’s quieter in Kyiv these days, we have less explosions here, I spend more time helping out on campus. We are fine, still in the bunker I described to you, but our group of 5 is planning to leave for western Ukraine. At first I was quite adamant about staying here, but now I’ll go, because too many people worry too much about me, so I’ll take that burden off the table when I leave. Many are stuck in a position where you have to choose between two unknowns, and common sense says different things to different people. I decided to choose a medium that would keep the group together, because community support is essential to my mental well-being, – with them, I feel I can do anything, and on my own, I would wither away faster than an encounter with a Russian missile.”

This trip would normally take eight hours. Two days later, I received another message. – “Me and my ‘crew’ have arrived in the Zakarattia region, (extreme south west of Ukraine) have unpacked, and are going to catch up on some sleep. Mom also tries to come here. The train ride out of Kyiv…it was good, lots of people, but it wasn’t hectic. There was a rush when the train was announced, lines formed, but we managed to move forward without pushing or anything. There were people inside, though. A 4 person room had 11, each upper bunk had 2 people and the pews below had to sit all night, all day. They got off the train and got on a bus, an hour ride, and I saw more sunshine than I had seen in two weeks.

“Let’s plan to meet again in Ukraine, preferably in Crimea, ahahaha, It will pass. It can be extremely sad, painful and difficult, but it will pass.

This message arrived a few days later. – “We are together, everything is fine! We are in Mukachevo, another city in western Ukraine. Everything changes quite quickly, so I’m going to be quick too: tomorrow we’re going abroad (we’re a group of 7 people: me, a girl from my university, mum, my brother, mum’s old friend and his 2 daughters ). We have a bus scheduled for tomorrow to go to the border with Slovakia, we will cross there, take a short break and then continue, most likely to Germany.

My response to Anna, “Thank you for this news. Can you feel the amount of love being sent to you from your Minnesota homies, everyone you knew? At Wykoff, Cherry Grove, Spring Valley, Preston. School teachers, church families… so many people praying… The trapping instructor says say hello to her, I pray for her… Kiss your mother for us.

Anna’s response, “I think I feel it, because I’m able to stay calm, focused, and mostly in a good mood for most of this, and I believe it’s because I know I have people who care. And my calmness helps people around me, so the support chain spreads!

Monday, March 14 at 9:44 a.m. – “We haven’t crossed it yet and in fact we’re not closer to it yet. Idk, there was a logistical problem, miscommunication, promises that ended up being unsatisfactory, etc. regarding transport, and this issue is still on the table. We will definitely leave today, or so we think but it’s been a waste of a day where everything is constantly changing and what’s more – opinions differ?

“Update, we’re already in a taxi, heading to the border.”

Then later that night. – “We crossed quickly, we were very warmly and attentively welcomed on the other side, we received SIM cards, food for the road, etc. + we provided a free transfer to Košice. Currently we are spending the night in a local church, tomorrow morning they (pretty fun local priests?) will take us back to the station (it’s both a bus and a railway) and we’ll take a train to Bratislava . There’s a lady ready to welcome our families is waiting for us at her house, and if that doesn’t work out – mom’s good friend is also currently in Bratislava and can provide us with at least temporary accommodation. Everyone we met on our way was just wonderful, the volunteers, are they all cinnamon rolls?

“Everyone has the impression that the world after this war will be different. I know that we will rebuild, and everything will be much better than before.

This is the last message I received from Anna. Watching the news, I can say that Anna and her family are extremely lucky. At the same time, I must point out that Anna’s father is not allowed to leave Ukraine. None of them wanted to leave, ever. They don’t party. They were each ready to cry out against the invaders and defend their home to the last of their strength. They left behind everything they worked for, except what fits in a suitcase. They are already talking about rebuilding and taking back their homeland, one way or another.

People want to help, but don’t know how. This can be as simple as a donation to CARE or UNICEF, or many use Airbnb to get in touch with a real person in or near the country, booking the visit and sending them a message that they would not come, it is a donation. Praying to God is also the best way to help. Miracles happen every day. An army of volunteers does God’s work.

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