For anyone concerned about the unfolding tragedy in Ukraine, the chance to meet an eyewitness to history can promise to be a moving experience.
Such was my fate when I interviewed a young woman named Anastasiia from Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. She arrived here in Suffield in April with her 2 ½-year-old daughter Karolina. They are staying at the home of Rick and Valentina Sotil, who reside on South Grand Street.
Rick is a former jai alai player who now owns and operates both a tree service business and a CBD oil manufacturing company called LASA Extract. On a trip to Kyiv, he met Valentina at a coffee shop. They have been married for seven years. It was through Valentina’s mother, who is still in Kyiv, that they learned of Anastasiia’s desire to take refuge in the U.S.
It took Anastasiia five days to journey from Ukraine to Suffield. She flew from Kyiv to Budapest (Hungary) to Ankara (Turkey), and from there to Mexico City, where Rick was waiting for her.
Passing through U.S Customs went relatively smoothly, mostly because Anastasiia had a specific place to stay, Rick believes. The trip from the airport to the border was cause for some anxiety, however, especially when they passed through the border town of Matamoros, infamous for kidnapping foreigners for ransom. Once in Brownsville, Texas, they took a bus to Houston, and from there boarded a flight to Connecticut.
Anastasiia’s parents, grandparents, and sister are still in Kyiv, and she is understandably worried for their safety. She hopes to return some day, but only “when it’s safe,” she said. Before she left Ukraine, she worked as a store manager and before that was a professional manicurist.
Anastasiia’s boyfriend also remains in Kyiv, and has volunteered to work in varying jobs to support the war effort. She says she communicates with him daily.
Rick and Valentina have not only provided a home for Anastasiia, but employment as well. She will be helping to work the machinery for Rick’s CBD Oil Extraction business, once she can arrange childcare for Karolina.
I asked her (through Valentina’s translation) what her hopes are for the future of Ukraine. She responded that she prays that Ukraine not only wins this war, but some day “blossoms” into the vibrant country it once was.
When I asked what she would like the U.S. and other countries to do to further help the Ukrainians in their struggle, she immediately responded, “Weapons.” But then she paused and her eyes filled up. Anastasiia’s next words caused Valentina’s eyes to moisten as well, and it took some time before she could translate for me. Anastasiia had said that the children are especially in need of help. It’s not just for their physical injuries, she said, but for their medical needs, and particularly their psychological needs resulting from the abuse, the rape, and even the torture some of them have experienced.
And what would she like Americans to understand about the Ukrainian people? “They are kind and open and straight-forward. And family is priority to them.”