The heartbreak in Ukraine hits home: “Those are my people”

Daria Stapolsky, Staff Writer

Daria’s father, left, attending elementary school in Kharkiv, Ukraine. (Photo Courtesy Daria Stapolsky)

My dad was born to a Ukrainian mother and Jewish father in Kharkiv, the second-largest city in Ukraine. The year was 1964 when the country was still under the Soviet Union. My dad grew up speaking Russian since that was the primary language spoken in the area. Ukrainian was more thought of as a second language.

When I was younger my dad would often tell me stories of his days in Kharkiv. He would tell me how beautiful the nature was and how he would pick fresh fruit from the trees. He’d always say that the flavor was nothing compared to the vegetables and fruits grown in the U.S. He also talked about how he enjoyed collecting and trading stamps with other school kids. He still has his collection filled with marvelous stamps in all shapes and prints that I would stare at for hours as a kid.

He remembers the scarcity of many things. Toilet paper was one of them. Most of the time people had to collect newspapers and cut them up into squares. When toilet paper was available, there would be long trailing lines just to get a mere roll. Many people would have to rely on the black market to meet their needs. Foreign imports and news were something that you had to dig for due to the country being cut off from the rest of the world.

Daria’s father (left) and his father (right) left Ukraine with his mother in 1973. (Photo courtesy Daria Stapolsky)

His father and mother both longed to leave the Soviet Union. There were a mix of reasons for why they wanted to leave but it was mainly from seeing their relatives being mistreated by the communist regime. Material reasons played a part as well. His father dreamed of moving to the U.S in the hopes to become a successful dentist. The family finally decided to immigrate in the midst of winter of 1973 and left their home behind never planning to return. In all honesty, my father was excited to get out into the world. He was ready to start a new life and explore what was out there.

“We never thought Ukraine would be an independent country at some point,” he said. “I think that was never in our minds when we lived in the Soviet Union and even later when we lived in the United States.”

 On August 24, 1991, Ukraine gained independence. Although miles away, my dad was still glad to hear news of the country’s newfound freedom.

“I heard there was corruption in Ukraine which was not too surprising considering that it happened after the soviet broke up,’ said my dad. “There were no institutions to create a stable society. Still, I was happy and took it as a good thing when Ukraine was an independent country.”

Ukraine’s independence has always been at stake but the real threat occurred when Russia launched a large-scale military invasion on February 24, 2022. After many attacks on civilian places such as schools, and residential areas Kharkiv is now in complete ruins. My dad’s dream of visiting his home country after almost 47 years is now near impossible.

“This kind of slaughter is difficult and sad to see what the Ukrainian people are going through,” he said. “I’m also worried this war could escalate into something bigger and could harm more people.”

I have never been to the country nor have I ever met my relatives who reside there today. I don’t even speak the language, but none of that really matters. There is no denying that my roots are Ukrainian and that those are my people. To see them in fear feels like a part of me is being torn apart. A young girl that I met a few years ago, and is now a dear friend, lives there today. Although we did not speak the same language we were able to build a special connection. She has already been through so much, and it pains me to know that she has to face yet another danger at only the age of 13.

History has warned us repeatedly that war only causes harm and never brings peace or a real solution. So why do we never listen? Why do we keep making the same mistakes over and over again? I’m tired of seeing innocent people being swept away in what seems to be a brawl over power that no one ever asked for, and I’m sure many people feel the same. If so, please show support and help the cause to save Ukraine before this war causes more damage.

Charities to consider:

United Ukraine American Relief Committee

Ukrainian Federation of America