Our last episode was published on February 24th, the day Russia began its brutal war here in Ukraine. We published that episode, and then promptly fell off the podcast map. Our whole lives changed on that day and we’ll never be the same. But at long last, we have picked up our heads and decided to revive the ol’ podcast. ❤️
In this episode, I (Kim) shared our community’s experiences during the first couple weeks of war and how we responded as the fight came closer and closer to our Homestead. It was a bit emotional for me to return to those days, but I think it’s important to share our experiences with you. This war in Ukraine is far from over and it is our responsibility, those of us who love Ukraine, to remind the world of what is happening here.
Please don’t forget Ukraine. 🇺🇦
The vision of Wide Awake Int. is to bring hope, love, and dignity to people with disabilities in Ukraine. We are living that out by bringing our friends out of institutions and into family life.
Yesterday I finally returned to Romaniv. It had been at least 7 months since I was there last and it felt like a bit of a homecoming, to be honest. Grant and I were talking about it on the way home. He said it felt strange that he felt so comfortable there. I mean, we all know that Romaniv isn’t a “comfy” place to be, but I know what he meant. It’s a comfortable place for us because it’s exactly the right place for us to be in this time and space. Romaniv, the boys there, and other people like them, stuck in institutions out in the middle of nowhere are the reason we are here. God plucked us out of our cozy American lives and plopped us down here in Ukraine, at this time, for those boys and others like them. Knowing you are in the exact place where you are meant to be is a wonderful feeling, even if that place is terrible and smelly and unjust and sad. There’s just a comfort in knowing “This is my place. These are my people.”
When Jed and I first moved to Ukraine almost 9 years ago, we knew nothing. We had no language, only a couple of acquaintances, and everything was completely foreign. Banking, shopping, transportation, communication, school, church…we knew nothing about any of it. I felt like our apartment was a little American island. Every time I exited the building I was entering another universe, and I was destined to fail in that new universe. I made mistakes all.the.time. I still do, but they’re less of a big deal these days, or maybe I’m just used to it by now 😂. I would get heart palpitations just thinking about having to approach a stranger. My perfectionistic tendency to only speak when I was confident I was saying something correctly made me a silent bystander instead of an active member of society. The only places I felt like myself was at home and then with our boys at Romaniv. Sigh, “These are my people.”
Our boys don’t have impossible expectations of us that we’ll never be able to meet. I imagine their thoughts, “Just be with me. Sit with me and hold my hand.”
Our boys don’t care if we make mistakes with the language. “Call me by my name and tell me you love me.”
Our boys don’t hold a grudge if we’ve been gone from them for seven months. “You came back! I was waiting for you!”
Our boys love us just because we are. Our relationships have been built over years and years of just being together. Not accomplishing anything that the world values, but just sitting together, singing together, being present with each other. The friendship our boys offer us is a massive gift and one I am truly thankful for today.
The Dim Hidnosti team is returning to our rhythm of spending Thursdays with our boys and I’m so glad. They need us and we need them. They ground us. They remind us of our purpose here and of what’s truly important. Lucky us, to have friends like them.
If you are new to this community you might now know much about our boys at Romaniv. Romaniv is the institution where all of the boys in our family used to live. I have written about it a lot over the years here on the blog. I’m planning to do a podcast episode about Romaniv, so if you have questions about the place, the boys there, or our work there go ahead and ask! I’ll do my best to answer.
Thursday was the first day of school for schools all across Ukraine. September 1st is the traditional start date each year and is called “The Day of Knowledge”. Classes don’t really begin until the 2nd, because the 1st is a ceremonial day. All schools have a “First Bell” ceremony to mark the beginning of the school year. At the First Bell ceremony, there are always different speakers and songs, and a parade of first graders who are just starting out on their school journey. There is always the Ukrainian flag and the national anthem. Everyone dresses up fancy, kids give flowers to their teachers and reunite with their classmates.
The First Bell is sometimes interesting, sometimes boring 😉, but always meaningful. It’s a special day and this year it was especially special and meaningful because a couple months ago we weren’t even sure it would be happening at all. In fact, for many Ukrainian schools across the country, it didn’t happen. We are among the most fortunate and I’m so thankful for that.
After lots of back and forth, praying and thinking, we decided to go ahead and put our three youngest kids back into school. Hava is in 7th class, Seth is in 6th, and Evie is in the preschool. The past 6 months have been so tumultuous. Our whole lives were turned upside down, inside out, and back again. Our kids have been incredibly brave and we are really proud of them, yet we also see the effects the war has had on them. They just really, really need stability right now and some sort of normalcy. After COVID and then the beginning of the war right when things were feeling quite normal again, they needed the comfort of waking up each morning and heading to school. They need interaction with teachers and time with their friends. They need to keep growing in their Ukrainian, and they need to not be sitting in front of a computer screen every single day. I just can’t with the distance learning. It does not work well for our family. 😂 The main thing is that we just have to keep living. The war has stolen so much from all of us. When there is an opportunity to live “normal” life we have to grab hold and run with it. So, on Thursday we went to the First Bell ceremony, and yesterday they began classes. Here we go! School is back in session.
In order for a school in Ukraine to be open for students to study in person it must first, exist at all, and second, it must have a bomb shelter in good repair, approved by the local board of education. The Kyiv Independent reported “As of Sept. 1, Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said that at least 2,405 educational institutions including schools have been damaged or destroyed by Russia’s brutal war. According to the official, at least 270 of them have been completely destroyed. ” So many children are without schools, and even if they do have a school that is open, many parents are afraid to place their kids in school, unsure if their children will be safe, or if their school will also become a target of Russian aggression. Many of our kids’ best friends are still in Europe somewhere: Poland or Italy or Germany. I wonder if they will come back someday or if they will become just a memory in our children’s childhood. Seth is sad he never got to say goodbye. The classes at school are so small, but there is a special camaraderie amongst the parents who have chosen to be here in Ukraine and have chosen to put our kids in school. It feels like a defiance of sorts- Russia will not steal this from our children today. I feel resolute about the decision, but we’ll see how I feel when the first air raid siren goes off and I know my kids are down in the school bomb shelter. Will I be confident in our decision then? I hope so. We just have to trust that God is leading us and giving us wisdom. It’s definitely not an easy time to be a parent in Ukraine, to put it lightly.
Thursday was our family’s 8th First Bell ceremony here in Ukraine. It felt oddly normal, but there were also a lot of differences and if I paused to really think about them it was a little like “I can’t believe this is my life…” Like the moment when we toured the bomb shelter and discussed how many minutes it would take for a missile to strike from Belarus versus how many minutes it would take for all the kids to get from their classrooms to the shelters. Or the moment when we discussed what should be kept in the shelter for each child (a backpack with water, any prescription meds, nonperishable snacks, a card with the child’s name, birthdate, parents’ names and phone numbers). There is a public school nearby our little Catholic school and they don’t have a bomb shelter, so their first through fourth graders will meet in our school building as well. Two schools will be using one building- that should make for an interesting time…ha! There’s just nothing simple about any of this and everyone is just taking things one day at a time. Yesterday the kids were at school and hopefully, they will be on Monday too, but nothing is a given. War is unpredictable.
We are just super thankful that our kids have the opportunity to be in school. A few months ago that reality seemed unimaginable. Please pray for their safety and for the safety of children all over Ukraine. A whole generation is being shaped and formed during this time of war. I pray that they are formed into people who love justice, who see the value of human life, whose hearts are turned toward the Lord, and who will fight to make their country a better place.
I don’t have a witty title today. Not that my other blog titles have been necessarily “witty”, but today I just have no thoughts of what to name this post. My mind is racing, my heart is hurting. Russia has waged a war of nightmare and terror on Ukraine for nearly 6 months now and they appear to have no intention of stopping any time soon. They bomb people’s homes, schools, kindergartens, hospitals, city centers. They rape, pillage and torture- like Vikings of old. They threaten the safety of an entire continent by using a nuclear power plant as a shield. They are trying to exterminate an entire nation, an entire culture, and the world grows weary of watching. Some even dare to say this war isn’t even really happening. While Ukrainians lay down their lives to protect the freedom of the Western world, Russians cry because they might not get to vacation in their beloved European resorts anymore. What.Is.Happening. Is this really the year 2022? Is the world really letting this continue? What.Is.Happening.
The other day we went to our kids’ school to register them for the upcoming school year. We drove down the usually quiet road in the forest and were surprised to see loads of Ukrainian soldiers on the premises. Apparently the empty building right next to our little school in the forest has been turned into a military facility…which means our kids will no longer be able to attend school. Our plan for them to be secluded and safe in the forest doesn’t really apply now. A few days later we returned to the school to discuss distance learning options and I had a moment of weakness. “Come on Jed, maybe we should just send them to school. The chances of anything significant happening here are low…” We went to a cafe in town to think and talk about it and heard a lot of airplane activity overhead. One does not simply ‘hear an airplane’ in Ukraine anymore. Any sound of an airplane means all heads are up, all eyes are fixed on the sky, all hearts beat a little faster. The sound of an airplane is the sound of terror these days. We tried to ignore the sounds and kept our discussion about school. An hour later we were at home and heard two big explosions. Something in town had definitely been struck. Never mind. The kids won’t be going to school anytime soon. Russia steals everything.
Air raid sirens are a daily occurrence here. There have been 4 just today, and it’s still only late afternoon. We hear them out in the village only when it’s very quiet at night and we’re standing in our backyard. They tell us the latest rockets strikes were launched from Belarus- our not-so-friendly neighbors to the north. No thank you very much. We tell the kids to go to a safe place when they are in town and they hear the sirens. I hope they do. Sometimes I can’t believe the conversations we have with our kids; conversations about air raid sirens, where to find the closest bomb shelter, if the sound we just heard was the rock quarry down the road or a missile strike, a sports car speeding down the highway or the roar of a jet. They are brave. They were brave before, but war has made them even more so. It changes us all- in good ways, and in ways I’m not ready to talk about yet. One thing is certain: war definitely changes a person.
Ukrainian Independence Day is August 24th and everyone looks ahead to this week with trepidation. Surely Russia doesn’t plan to let that day pass quietly. Russia is a terrorist state and it seems like they will want to mark that day in their own special way. We will celebrate quietly at home. I remember the Independence Day we spent once in Lviv. It was beautiful. Who could have imagined what was to come? Ukraine deserves its independence just like every other country. Ukrainians deserve to celebrate without fear and without a foreign power occupying their lands and decimating their cities. Ukraine deserves to be free from Russia and if other countries want to stay free they better step in and make sure Ukraine wins this terrible war.
My cousin married a wonderful man, Misha, who is a proud Ukrainian. He recently wrote this truth (the words in bold are mine):
“Let me explain really quick what would happen if Ukraine will not win this war. Major part of central Ukraine, east, north, and south will be occupied. Russia will become bigger, more aggressive, their borders as well as appetite will expand. Immediately, all the people on occupied territories will go through filtration camps (This is already happening in occupied areas), where they will be checked how Ukrainian they are. Any past cooperation with ZSU (Ukrainian military), any man with patriotic pro Ukrainian position, any former rear guard volunteers, as we are, – will be prosecuted. People will be sentenced to death, sent with their families to Siberia or just disappear. Russia knows how to do that very well. At the same time, in their apartments will move another families from poorest and remote parts of Russia, bringing famous ‘Russian culture’, terror and aggression. Women will work as a teachers of their language and literature, men will be KGB workers, searching for Ukrainian patriots, hating all the locals, but taking their goods. That’s how my my grandma’s family from Siberia appeared far west in Transcarpathia in early 50’s. During the first years Russia will establish pro-Russian managers in every governmental facility, every school, every public place, police and post office. Ukrainian culture will be suppressed and if that happens long enough – will become extinct, we might be the last generation of the native speakers. This is the cyclical nature of Russian invasion known for centuries. They always wanted to go west to occupy reacher territories. My grandparents’ generation suffered from that, my parents’ generation lived as a part of regime as well as me, so let’s stop them now so the kids would live free, being who they are – Ukrainians. Please help as protect our little peaceful nation. We would never raise a weapon if not to defend our people.” Instagram
I have recently been brushing up on some of Ukraine’s history and what Misha wrote is 100% how things will go if Ukraine doesn’t win this war. This is what Russia does. This is what can not happen.
So we pray, we mourn, we have days of hope and days of fear. Most days are “normal”. We continue to love our children, our boys, and our team. We celebrate together and try to remember to enjoy the little things: the way the goats nuzzle us like cats, Anton pedaling a bike, the plums from our trees, Sasha singing a new tune that we all recognize, homemade bread, being home and cozy nights with the sound of rain on the roof. When the underlying tension of war comes to the surface we try to remember to give our cares to Jesus. Only He can help.
Please, I beg you, don’t forget Ukraine. I know there are so many things to care about in this world, so many tragedies, so many stories on the news. But I still ask you to remember Ukraine, to pray for Ukraine, to elevate Ukrainian voices and the Ukrainian perspective. We would really appreciate it so much.
Here’s a little tour of the Wide Awake/Dim Hidnosti property for you. ☺️ I think it helps to see the bigger picture of the Homestead and how it has changed and developed over the years. Plus, exciting new developments are underway! 👏👏
PS: Sorry my voice sounds annoying and Jed’s is so quiet. I’d redo it, except it’s raining…so…no. 😆