Iulia Shvachko, second from left, and Nataliya Yanovska, second from right, with their children during a recent Savannah for Ukraine event. COURTESY IULIA SHVACHKO

Nataliya Yanovska and Iulia Shvachko have a lot in common: They are both from Ukraine, they live in Bluffton, they both are married and have small children, and they have good jobs. In addition, they both volunteer a lot of their time collecting, sorting, packing donations and preparing shipping containers to support the war effort in Ukraine through Savannah Supports Ukraine.

Both women fear that the Ukraine they love will never be the same – that the war will continue to ravage their home country.

“During the first month, I was in shock and in disbelief. It’s turning into a never-ending battlefield – a battlefield of Putin’s ambition,” Shvachko said. “My beautiful country is being destroyed. I will never see the same Ukraine again.”

“The power of the people is greater than any one man,” said Yanovska. “We cannot turn away. The news and awareness must continue. There’s a nuclear threat, no power, and in so many ways it could be an apocalyptic disaster. There must be an end.”

“I wake up every day thinking I’ve had a bad dream,” Yanovska continued. “Then I realize it’s really happening.”

Yanovsak strongly encouraged her parents to leave the country. “I have my independence and now the role with my parents is reversed,” she said. “I kept insisting loudly for my parents to leave.” 

Her parents lived in the Donetsk region near the Russian border. Yanovsak said they came here from March to June, but their hearts remained in the home country. “They have a farm and were worried about their village, family, and their animals. They know how much I worry, so they stay strong for me,” she said. “They relocated to a village near Kiev away from the front.”

Shvachko is from the Zaparesia region in southern Ukraine, which is under Russian occupation. Her parents moved here five years ago, but still own their apartment in Ukraine. However, her uncles, aunts and cousins have been displaced to Poland, Lithuania and safer locations in Ukraine. 

“Everybody wants to go home,” she said. “Huge apartments full of people have no power, water or gas. The Russians vandalize these places because the people can’t just sit there for weeks and months in a concrete building.” 

Shvachko added that property insurance is not a common practice in Ukraine, so her parents are sick with worry about their apartment.

“This is everybody’s fight,” she said. “The world didn’t realize how much Ukraine feeds the world, especially African countries where there is a real food crisis. This leads to riots and children are dying. This is a third World War – it is, and it affects the whole world.”

Yanovska has two sons, ages 4 and 6. Shvachko is the mother of a 9-year-old boy and 5-year-old twin girls. As mothers, they try to protect their children from the trauma and horrors of war. 

The children are aware that there is a war going on, but they are shielded from the details. Yanovska said they try not to listen to the news with the children. “I’m strong,” she said, “but I wonder how it would be to raise them there in Ukraine with the war.”

Both Yanovska and Shvachko fear that people will tune out news of the continuing conflict and become complacent. “We have to continue to support Ukraine,” Yanovska said. “We cannot turn away. The news and awareness must continue.” 

Shvachko agreed. “Awareness is a great thing, to remember it’s still going on,” she said. “If people can donate that’s great, but remember. Don’t forget. Ukraine is fighting for the whole world for the true definition of freedom.”

Shvachko looks to the future, when people can start to rebuild in Ukraine. “I remain hopeful,” she said. “I told my husband, when the war is over, we’re going to Ukraine to mix some concrete!” 

“We can ask our state representatives to speak on our behalf and continue support,” Yanovsa said. “The power of human connection and ability to understand the size of this tragedy should unite us in our efforts to help.” 

Any individual or community who wants to help can donate to Savannah Supports Ukraine. For more information, visit savannahsupportsukraine.org. 

Edwina Hoyle is a freelance writer in Bluffton.