Local Ukrainian Family React to War in Ukraine

"I feel pain, I'm like in the dark -- in the darkness." Diana Hrebennykova

Ukraine Viktor Pkg 6 030300 00 26 14still001Husband and wife Viktor and Diana both have families that currently live in Ukraine. Their families are still there as bombs drop and cities are destroyed.

“It’s still hard to believe what’s going on. And it’s like surreal for most of us,” Viktor says.

Diana’s family fled the capital city of Kiev when the invasion first began. Viktor’s family is currently surrounded by Russian forces in Mykolayiv, a city and port in southern Ukraine.

Viktor and Diana live in Traverse City with their two children. Viktor says, “I don’t feel I am here right now. All my thoughts are there.”

They moved to America in 2014 when tensions began to rise in East Ukraine with the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula early that same year.

Both Viktor and Diana are coaches in the area. Diana coaches gymnastics while Viktor is the Head Coach for theUkraine Viktor Pkg 6 030300 01 06 28still002 Lake Leelanau Rowing Club. He was also a member of the Ukraine Rowing Team that went to the Olympics in 2012.

Viktor’s hometown of Mykolaiv sits between two rivers with draw bridges connecting the town with the rest of Ukraine. The bridges have been raised to prevent the Russian Military sitting at the other side from entering the city. Currently, nobody is allowed in or out.

“You can leave and you’re putting yourself in [danger]. Traveling on roads is not safe,” Viktor says. He explains that due to that fact, his family feels better staying where they are. “People don’t know what to expect,” Viktor states.

Viktor’s brother works in Poland and was trying to get back home over 100 miles away. He hitched a ride with people headed back into Ukraine. He rode with them for as long as he could until he had to walk the rest of the way. Along the way he was shot in the leg by Russian Soldiers.

Ukraine RoadblockViktor says the bullet didn’t hit the bone or any major arteries. “He’s fine right now. He’s taking some medicines like antibiotics, recovering right now.”

Meanwhile, Viktor’s wife Diana’s family is hiding out in a bunker in West Ukraine. She says the day of the invasion her brother drove her whole family from Kiev to her grandmothers in West Ukraine.

“My mom texted me that she woke up because of the rocket in the sky,” Diana says. She says they packed emergency bags and headed west immediately to a town in West Ukraine. Diana explains, “It’s bigger than Traverse City, but it’s still small.”

Although the current situation has been tough on Viktor and Diana, they’re proud of the defiance their countrymen have shown. She says, to stand up in the face of one of the largest militaries in the world is a testament to the courage and bravery of the Ukrainian people.

Diana says, “I believe that Ukrainian people right now are the strongest, their powerful, the [most courageous] people in the world. And now the world knows that.”