Asheville – Thousands of people of Ukrainian descent live in Buncombe County. Emotions from Ukrainians who spoke with the Tribune include: anger, sorrow and fear.
“Everyone is hopeless” about Ukraine’s impending future, Yvegeniya (Eugenia) “Zhenya” Lazarchuk said after texting her relatives still in their homelands in recent days. “They will fight until the last warrior is standing. I have a great sense of pride and honor. They want to maintain their independence. They would rather die fighting for freedom than live under the tyranny of (Russian dictator Vladimir) Putin.”
Zhenya said, “at first, I thought it’s better for them to surrender — so there’s no bloodshed. But after talking to many Ukrainians who grew up there, it’s a mistake to think that. Ukrainians here fear Ukraine will be slaves for Putin’s financial gains.”
She said while some other Ukrainians are upset at Russians in general, “my anger is directed more against Putin. He started it all.” She agrees Putin is a “megalomaniac” veering out of control, bent on a conquest to grab Ukrainian resources and rebuild the former Soviet empire.
She said it is “beautiful to see how many Americans realize how evil this atrocity is. It’s an injustice.”
Zhenya runs Salon Zhenya in Asheville. She turns 35 on March 6. She was born in 1987, in Estonia in the Baltics at a time when it was still part of the vast Soviet empire. Her birth certificate says she was born in “Russia.” Both of her parents, who now live in Candler, are “full-blooded Ukrainian. My Dad was stationed in Estonia.”
When she was two, her family moved to the U.S. — to Cleveland, Ohio and later to Asheville. She twice visitied Ukraine and saw a rougher life there. In Asheville “I live in heaven on earth. I’m extremely grateful to not live under Russian rule” or invasion. Her parents attend the Slovak Revival Fellowship in Asheville.
Bitter hand-to-hand combat erupted in the capital of Kyiv this past weekend after much bombing. Russia invaded Eastern Ukraine first, on Feb. 22. TV news showed a Russian tank veering to purposely smash over a car of Ukrainians. “Who put in that order to run over Ukrainians?!” Zhenya wonders. “This is beyond evil. This is frickin’ 2022. Why are we repeating history?”
She refers to Nazi atrocities in World War II. A meme online vowed “Russians will pay for their sins.” But Zhenya reasons civilian “Russians don’t want to be identified as the ones attacking Ukraine. They’re invading an innocent country.” She equates it to guilt some German citizens felt during WWII about Nazi aggressions.
Loved Ones Endangered
Zhenya communicated on Instagram with her cousin Igor, a dentist. He and his parents live in Ternopil in western Ukraine. “They’re extremely worried. My heart bleeds for them.” Zhenya cannot reach three aunts in Ukraine, where communications may be down.
Igor’s brother lives in New York. “He wanted go to Ukraine to fight. But he didn’t want to leave his wife and kids,” Zhenya said. Her Ukrainian-American boyfriend Andre, a nurse here, wanted to fly to Ukraine serving as a medic.
Her father instills hope in her. ”I’m on the side of hope,” Zhenya said. “Others feel doom. They‘ll surrender to some form of slavery under Putin.” Or “they want to leave. It’s a terrifying time.”
She prefers “they fight for their country. They’ll likely lose this war,” but could win against odds or prolong a stalemate to secure better peace terms. “At least they died free.” She backs the order for males ages 18-60 to stay in Ukraine, get armed and fight.
Ukrainians demonstrated a decade ago against their former Pres. Viktor Yanukovych, a Russian puppet. He was ousted in 2014 for siding with Russia over NATO. “If Ukrainians are overtaken by Russia now,” Zhenya said, “they’ll take up plans to eventually win their freedom again.”
Ukranian Pres. Volodymyr Zalenskyy and Kyiv Mayor Vladimir Klitschko stayed in harm’s way in Kyiv. “It’s very admirable, patriotic and honorable” of them to lead by brave example, Zhenya said.
When Ukrainian forces temporarily retook the airport near Kyiv, she felt “damn proud. It makes my heart gleam. It brings back hope.”
She is upset Russia double-crossed Ukraine into giving Russia its nuclear weapons in 1994, with the false promise of honoring its independence. Ukraine is more vulnerable to attack. She sees Putin playing a devious, “very long chess game.”
Daria “Dasha” Obolensky Morgan of Mills River sympathizes with Ukrainians. Dasha’s Russian maternal grandparents fled the Soviet Union. They have a link to Ukraine, where “my grandfather proposed to her there on a rowboat on the Dnieper River in 1908.”
Dasha is disturbed by the current Russian invasion. She said it will “help the flames of hatred grow between the two countries. I can well understand how long-lasting hatred and mistrust exists.”
Dasha said, “Historically, for many centuries, there was a close tie between Russia and Ukraine. The history of the Orthodox (Christian) Church is part of the equation. But sadly under Stalin in the 1930s, the Ukraine was totally devastated. Millions starved as Stalin (seized and) collectivized the Ukrainian farms, and sent all the food to Russia.”
This “Holodomor” (to kill by starvation) in 1932-33 resulted in several million enslaved farmers dying, as Stalin punished Ukraine for resisting tyranny. Zhenya said, “They were starved, and eating other people to stay alive.”
Thus Ukrainians she communicates with are “terrified. They were slaves under Stalin’s rule, and now might become slaves of Putin.“
Dasha regards Putin as an “a nationalistic, aggressive bully” who “wants the reunification with Ukraine as a part of his historical legacy.” She wonders if Putin truly regards NATO as a military threat to Russia, as he claims.
Rather than overpower Ukraine, she said “if only he could have used ‘the carrot’ instead of the ‘stick’ to bring the two countries together.”