CODY — A little over a year ago, Galina Matsiakh woke up during the night to see the Ukrainian sky colored orange. It wasn’t a sunrise. It was a country with war on its doorstep, as Russia launched its invasion.
Matsiakh, along with Olena Kostiushko, were the two families brought to Cody by locals Nick and Yulia Piazza last July.
Joined by Yulia, who is from Ukraine, the three women spoke of what it means to see the war in Ukraine enduring its one-year anniversary.
“If somebody from Russia sees this article,” Kostiushko said, “they need to know you cannot build your own happiness on somebody else’s horrible moments.”
“They cannot create something good on someone else’s skeletons,” she said.
To date, there have been at least 21,000 civilian casualties since the war in Ukraine began, while approximately 14 million people have been displaced from their homes. Nearly 100,000 Ukrainian soldiers have died, according to the United Nations.
Though the war has lasted over a year, for Matsiakh, it has felt like one extremely long day.
“It’s like we don’t feel real time,” she said. “We have lost time. We just don’t feel it anymore.”
The anniversary was triggering for all three women, who experienced flashbacks about the first day of the war.
Piazza remembered receiving emails from the American Embassy in Ukraine at the end of 2021, encouraging all U.S. citizens to leave the country due to expected Russian provocations.
“Nobody believed something like this could happen,” she said.
Piazza was in Cody the day the war started. Around dinner time, she got messages that the Russians were bombing the country.
“I don’t know how many days we didn’t sleep because of the time difference, and we were online all the time with our friends and family, trying to reach them,” she said.
A particular moment still haunts Piazza.
She was talking with a friend in Ukraine who was trying to cross the border into Poland with his children.
“I told him, ‘Don’t forget to write their names on their backs and a phone number too,’” Piazza said. “I told him to write my phone number in case they were lost ... It was one of the most emotional episodes which I can remember.”
Matsiakh said the second day of the war was harder for her. She saw droves of cars filled with panicked families and scared children who were trying to escape.
“We were scared and we didn’t know what we needed to do,” she said.
As Matsiakh drove with her child through the streets of Kyiv, she remembered the darkness and seeing defense weapons placed around the city.
“I didn’t want to turn my [car] lights on, so the Russians wouldn’t be able to see movement on the road,” she said.
Overall, the shock of that day stemmed from the reality of what Russia could do.
“It is unreal that our neighbor can shoot us, kill us and do whatever they want to do with our people,” Matsiakh said.
For Kostiushko, the memories of the first day of the war are weighted with exhaustion.
“It was very troubling. A lot of confusion,” she said. “The year has been difficult for all Ukrainians, and we’re just a little tired.”
None of the three women expected the war to last as long as it has.
Piazza and her family had hoped Russian citizens would stop their government.
“We believed that the Russians would wake up and they will make protests in the streets ... that they will not be followers of their government,” she said. “We were expecting that ... but it didn’t happen.”
Even though Matsiakh and Kostiushko are in Cody now, they are rooting for their fellow countrymen.
“My main thing is we’re fighting, [and] we’ll never give up,” Matsiakh said. “That’s our nation ... We have a big power and fire in our heart, and we will fight every day.”
“It doesn’t matter how much time passes, we are always thinking about our family and friends who are still there in Ukraine,” she said. “We will never stop thinking about them.”
Despite their dislocation and concerns about their home country, they are thankful to Cody.
“We want to prove that we are successful people who are following the rules of the country who gave us another home,” Piazza said. “And we want to thank the U.S. government and the people who have supported us and helped us for a whole year.
“I believe you will help us win this war,” she continued. “Without the United States ... [Ukraine] would really struggle for many, many years, and now I see we can throw those evils from our territory.”
Their hope is the war will end this year.
“We have to believe in something,” Piazza said. “We have to have hope. Otherwise, I don’t know how to survive this world.”
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