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SANTA FE – The strain is evident in Lidia’s eyes as she speaks Friday on FaceTime from her central Ukraine village with her son, Alex, in his Santa Fe apartment.
Alex, 40, his eyes red, translates her words from Ukrainian to English as he makes one of his twice daily calls with his mom, Lidia, 73, and his father, Pete, 76. Their surnames are not provided to protect their safety in a war zone.
Lidia, with glasses perched on her nose below her blue eyes and wearing a red sock cap in front of a tapestry and a painting of a forest scene, speaks quickly as Alex translates.
“They said they never wanted the war,” Alex says. “And they are not going to give up, and they will protect until the last.”
Nineteen minutes into the 22-minute call at 6 p.m. in Ukraine, the lights in their basement – meant for potatoes and vegetables, but where they now sleep – go out to prevent visibility from any Russian planes and to save electricity.
They can go out in the daytime, “but if the alarm goes off, they have to hide.”
“They are scared and really stressed, it’s hard to imagine,” Alex says, translating their words during the call. “They live in fear constantly. Fear for the future, too, because it’s going to affect everything, even if the war stops. The country is ruined.”
As his home country of 44 million people and geographically about the size of Texas is being devastated by the weapons of modern war, Alex cherishes the calls. His parents visited Santa Fe two years ago.
After Friday’s call Alex says, “Sometimes, I talk to them and they just cry, sometimes they are just angry. They don’t see any solution except to resist, keep resisting. And they think they shouldn’t let Russia take over.”
Alex tries to reach his parents when it’s the morning here and again at 10 p.m., Santa Fe time, when it’s early morning in Ukraine, but he never knows if he will get through.
“I am just hoping I can reach them, maybe talk for the last time, you never know, I am glad to see them every time, more than ever before,” he says.
Although over one million people have fled Ukraine, mostly for Poland, Romania and Moldova, since the Russians attacked last week, leaving is not an option for Alex’s family.
“They are absolutely locked in the place right now. They can’t leave anywhere. They can’t seek help from other countries because they have no means of transport, no gas,” he says.
It’s about 600 miles to the Polish border from their village, which is about 130 miles from Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital.
“My parents can’t leave,” Alex says. “I’d love for them to leave, but they say they can’t because they are too old.”
He adds: “Even if they moved, they don’t want to leave the rest of the family, so nobody’s moving. They don’t want to leave anybody behind.
“The men can’t leave, so the women stay, and the kids stay, they just stick together and try to survive.”
Alex says his sister Tetyana, 50, and her family live near his parents and she often spends the night with them.
“My sister said it’s so scary when you hear missiles flying in the air, just like a whistling noise,” he says.
His parents say they have not heard explosions near their village, but there is plenty of air activity.
“They heard airplanes flying over and they heard missiles flying over,” Alex says. “My sister heard a very scary noise; she heard four of them back to back.”
Alex says that, although his family in Ukraine hopes for eventual peace, they will continue to fight, but their country could use some assistance.
“They want to fight until it stops, they are just really motivated to stop it. They need any help they can get,” he says. “My mom is asking to raise awareness of the (U.S.) government to help with some air defense supplies to identify rockets, airplanes, and try to be protected from them, for the civilians, because they get bombed and hit with these missiles.
“This is the scariest thing … they aren’t protected from that.”
The bombing and shelling is “ruining our cities and villages, the whole infrastructure,” Alex says. “We need all kinds of help now if anybody can help in any way with donation of food or clothes, medications. People still live their lives, they can’t stop, they still give birth, they need hospitals like everybody else.”
While food may be a problem in some areas, Alex’s family lives in a rural village, “so they have their own food … but they don’t have gas to buy (for vehicles),” he says. There is one small store in the village with very basic groceries.
Alex tries not to watch too many images from TV, but takes pride in how his countrymen are fighting back. His mother told him that, while some villagers left to join the Ukrainian refugees in other countries, others who had been working outside the country have returned to fight.
“We were such a peaceful people, we never wanted to fight anybody ever,” he says. “They are so patriotic right now, making Molotov cocktails just to do something.”
After speaking with his parents Friday morning, Alex is getting ready to go to work “basically for my own sake because, if I stay home, I go crazy.
“I am really, really depressed and scared, and I don’t know what to expect, I hope it’s just a nightmare, I can’t believe it’s happening. It shouldn’t be happening, it’s an absolutely unnecessary war.
“Nobody needed it, we didn’t need that war, we didn’t need that intrusion.”
He shows a reporter a beautiful paint set he received recently from his parents with a note basically saying “goodbye,” if the worst comes to pass.