Ukrainian Family In The US Lives With Anger, Fear And Regret

Life in Ukraine during war attacks: “It’s our house” 2:27

Sandy Springs, Georgia (WABNEWS) — Alex Podebryi has barely slept in three days.

In the dead of night, he searches live feeds for updates on Russian forces invading his home country. He zooms in on social media videos of tanks entering Ukrainian cities.

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He watches TV footage of bomb-shocked Ukrainians fleeing for their lives and wonders how long it will take for the Russians to reach the western city of Lviv, where nearly three dozen of his relatives live.

Every time he gets new information, he calls his father in Buffalo, New York. His father, also glued to the news, also calls him. Podebryi’s phone rings at all hours.

“He’s distraught and distracted,” says his wife, Lauren Podebryi, from their home in this suburb of Atlanta.

“He wakes up in the middle of the night to watch the news. He doesn’t sleep. He’s constantly on the phone with his dad throughout the night.”

Feel a complex surge of emotions

There are more than 1 million people of Ukrainian descent in the United States, according to estimates from the 2019 census. Like Podebryi, many have worried for months that Russian President Vladimir Putin would launch an attack after soldiers and weapons began piling up near Ukraine’s borders.

As Russia launches air and missile strikes and ground forces enter the capital city of Kyiv, Podebryi and other Ukrainian-American families watch the unfolding crisis in terror.

Before the Russian army started firing rockets at Ukrainian cities, the dentist spent his nights lying on the ground playing with his 3-year-old daughter and 9-month-old son.

In recent days, he has been too preoccupied with the constant babble of news about the Russian invasion, suddenly consumed by the grim reality unfolding some 8,000 kilometers away.

On a Friday afternoon, Podebryi sits on a gray sofa in a living room filled with children’s drawings and Ukrainian memorabilia. Her eyes dart between a burst of news on her phone and a television set in the center of the room.

The baby’s occasional screeches punctuate a room where the only other sounds are the explosions of Russian air raids on the television.

One of Podebryi’s most prized possessions — a pointed Ukrainian club called a bulava, considered a symbol of strength in his home country — sits on a nearby shelf.

Ukrainian memorabilia in Alex Podebryi’s home include a bulava club and a handmade motanka doll.

But Podebryi, 39, is not feeling so strong these days.

“It’s very depressing. We’re being massacred. It’s like a modern giant taking over and crushing everyone,” he says of Russia. “Imagine how many wives will be left without husbands. A whole generation of children will lose their parents.”

Their emotions oscillate between anger, fear and regret.

“People who have no experience are taking up arms to fight. In Ukraine, we are very proud of where we come from, even with all the pain and suffering. That is why many people are on the streets fighting, even though they know we are outnumbered. “.

Podebryi has visited relatives in Ukraine several times, but not in the last eight years. He has not had the opportunity to take his wife and children to his home country, something he wishes he could change now.

“I had so many excuses — first I was in dental school, then it was babies and the pandemic,” she says, her voice trembling. “I wish I had visited more. I feel like we will lose Ukraine, like there is no Ukraine to go back to. At least not the Ukraine I know.”

His mother, Olga Tourtchina, who is visiting from Buffalo, quickly intervenes.

“If I was in the Ukraine, I would be in the streets fighting, 200%,” she says.

For her mother, the invasion brings back terrifying memories.

Whenever Tourtchina, 71, comes to visit her son, she usually prepares five-course Ukrainian meals — including borscht soup and Pierogi dumplings — for him and his family. But this time she’s been so busy with the news that she hasn’t done much of it.

Like her son, Tourtchina has a lot to say about the Russian invasion. As a child growing up in the Soviet Union, she heard horror stories about dictator Joseph Stalin’s reign of terror.

Putin’s government, he says, brings back memories of that time.

Olga Tourtchina is visiting her son in Sandy Springs, Georgia. She says that the Russian invasion reminds her of growing up in the Soviet Union.

“It hurts that we’re going through the same thing so many years later,” he says.

Tourtchina fled to the United States with her son and daughter in 1991, the same year President Mikhail Gorbachev dissolved the Soviet Union. She was joined by her husband, who was living on a visa in Buffalo, New York. Podebryi was 9 years old.

“We left a lot of family behind and came for the same reason a lot of people come here: better opportunities and a better life,” Podebryi says. “I remember not being able to communicate with anyone and not knowing the language, but I quickly learned what America was all about.”

For a kid new to Buffalo, part of it was about football. The Buffalo Bills were an NFL powerhouse and appeared in a record four consecutive Super Bowls. in the early 1990s.

In the Soviet Union, there were hardly any sports and no communal sports pride. Young Alex was stunned by Bills fever in Buffalo.

“I remember thinking, ‘Why is everyone so excited? What’s going on here?'” says Podebryi, who remains a die-hard Bills fan. “That was new to me. All those little things about how society works, how it works. In Buffalo we lived in a tight-knit community, it was really nice.”

Podebry graduated from the University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine before moving to Georgia in 2014 to start a family.

They are desperate for news about their loved ones

The night of February 23 will remain etched forever in Podebryi’s memory.

He was having dinner with friends at a restaurant when he saw a news alert on his phone. Russia had invaded the Ukraine. Her face fell.

“Because there were so many threats, I didn’t think it would happen. Although I trusted US intelligence in recent days, the Russians have always been threatening. It’s been an ongoing thing for years,” she says.

He immediately called his father, who reached out to his large number of cousins, aunts and uncles in Lviv. Podebryi ran home to watch the news.

Alex Podebryi holds up a montaka rag doll, a Ukrainian symbol of protection, as his mother, Olga Tourtchina, looks on.

He says a dozen of his relatives in Ukraine, including the 18-year-old son of one of his cousins, tried to flee to Poland on Friday.

As they drove in traffic towards the Polish border, the Ukrainian government issued a decree that all men between the ages of 18 and 60 must stay and fight for their country. After hours of waiting at the border, the 18-year-old was denied entry to Poland, Podebryi says.

The other members of the family decided not to leave without him. They turned around and went back to Lviv.

On Saturday, Podebryi says his relatives made another attempt to cross into Poland, where they hope to stay with a friend. His cousin’s son stayed behind to defend his country.

Ukraine’s coat of arms is displayed at Alex Podebryi’s home in suburban Atlanta.

“What bothers me the most is to see these young people… what are their chances of survival? Many of the young people will have to fight with no military experience. The hardest part is knowing that these people who love Ukraine the most are the who will die first,” he says.

“It’s hard to see how the city and everything we built in the last 30 years is bombed and destroyed in front of our eyes,” he adds. “I don’t care about the buildings. The worst thing is that we will lose these people who love Ukraine so much.”

He is trying to help from afar

Podebryi says he knows he is lucky to have had a chance at a new life three decades ago. He is safe in America, he is not hiding from bombs in an underground tunnel.

He plans to do what he can to make a difference from afar.

Instead of visiting a playground with her kids this weekend, she’ll be in downtown Atlanta with other Ukrainian Americans protesting the invasion. She also got some friends together to raise money to buy night vision goggles for civilians in Ukraine who are fighting to defend their country.

The Georgia branch of the Ukrainian Congressional Committee of America, an organization for Ukrainians in the US, hopes to help distribute them to groups on the ground.

When fighting a formidable foe, Podebryi says, everything helps.

And as each day brings more sober news from Ukraine, their close-knit family leans on one another, as they have for decades.

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