This story was originally published in the Nebraska Examiner.
LINCOLN — The message on Halyna Carbullido’s Facebook page says a lot:
“My morning doesn’t start with coffee any more. It starts with making sure my friends and relatives in Ukraine are still alive.”
This is the world inhabited by Ukranians in America right now. They’re glued to the internet, to their cell phone, to news reports to follow what’s happening in their home country.
‘Every waking moment I’m online’
They’re collecting first-aid kits and bandages to ship back home. They’re speaking at rallies seeking American support. They’re spending sleepless nights, worrying about loved ones.
“Every waking moment I’m online,” said Carbullido, who emigrated from Ukraine to Omaha in 1991 and has been married to her husband, Ken Carbullido, for 10 years. Everyone knows her by her nickname, “Hala.”
The 56-year-old, who does IT work for an Omaha bank, was helping load up a truck Sunday with medical supplies for shipment to Chicago and on to her home country. These days, she said, sleep comes only “with help.”
In Lincoln on Sunday, 20-year old Yulia Iziumova, a junior at Nebraska Wesleyan University, spoke to a “Rally to Support Peace in Ukraine” on the steps of the State Capitol.
Classmates at the front
The former exchange student at Lincoln High School said the fighting hasn’t yet reached her hometown of Chornomorsk, near the port city of Odessa. But the war is close by, in eastern Ukraine, and is closing in.
“I have classmates who are now at the front,” Iziumova said of friends in Ukraine.
Her mother fled across the border to Moldova, but her father, Igor, a 42-year-old crane operator at the port of Odessa, has stayed behind, with her grandparents, an aunt and uncle and some cousins.
“He thought it was the right thing to stay and help defend the country in any way he can,” Iziumova said of her father.
Right now, the port is closed, but soldiers are there, sandbagging, preparing for a possible invasion of Odessa. She said she can feel the tension, the horrible anticipation. She said she’s become a “slave” to the news feed.
Hoping not to hear ‘Odessa’
“I’m just hoping not to hear the word ‘Odessa,’” Iziumova said.
“Nobody knows what tomorrow looks like,” she added. “That’s a very hard thing.”
In Omaha, Carbullido feels the same anxiety, the same awful feeling about what could happen next.
She grew up in Lviv, in western Ukraine, a cultural hub near Poland that has escaped the shellings so far.
But she knows people in the east where bombs are falling and people are dying. And her 61-year-old brother, Rostyslav, a retired oil company logistics manager, and his wife are still in Lviv, waiting.
Fled to Germany
The brother, she said, drove his former daughter-in-law (their son died three years ago), her three kids and her new husband to the Polish border just after the war broke out. They waited in line for 18 hours before being allowed to leave Ukraine and are now at a refugee dormitory in Germany, waiting for COVID-19 tests to clear them to find temporary housing.
Carbullido said her brother doesn’t want her to ask what he will do when the war comes to Lviv.
“He refuses to talk about it,” she said. “He doesn’t want me to bug him about, ‘You must have your luggage packed.’”
“’At least do that,’ I told him,” Carbullido said.
For now, the brother is “staying out of the way.” She said he is part of a network of Lviv residents who are giving rides to those evacuating the city of 717,000.
‘It was like Omaha …”
Lviv, Carbullido said, is known as “The Paris of Ukraine” because of its beautiful architecture, culture and monuments. But now residents are boarding up windows and covering the monuments to protect them when the shooting starts.
“It was like Omaha,” Carbullido said of Lviv. “You wake up in the morning, you go to work, you drop your kids at school, you meet your friends for drinks at night …
“And then it changed overnight,” she said. “Now Ukraine is in ruins.”
Carbullido, who landed in Omaha because a local Ukranian church was willing to sponsor her and her son, said that Ukraine did not ask for war but that she expected that Russian president Vladmir Putin would someday invent a reason to invade.
“They think Ukraine belongs to them. They think Ukraine should work hard to support Russia and doesn’t deserve to be a separate country,” she said.
Carbuillido said that her home country, which she last visited nine years ago, has political divisions like any nation, but is united in the fight against Russia.
“They know what kind of life their relatives have across the border (in Russia) and they don’t want it,” she said.
Both Carbullido and Iziumova said the war in Ukraine is more than a fight between that country and Russia, but a fight against the whole world.
No one, they said, expects the U.S. to send troops there, but Ukraine needs more help.
Send drones, Carbullido posted on her Facebook page — along with pictures of newborns housed in a bomb shelter, a woman confronting a Russian soldier, and elderly women cooking food for Ukrainian troops.
What’s to come for her home country?
“Oh, my God. I don’t know,” Carbullido said. “I’ve been reading different analyses. I don’t know.”
“I’m scared to think of the worst-case scenario: Occupation,” she said. “It’s just heartbreaking.”