EXCLUSIVE: Missouri woman’s family remains in Ukraine during the heat of battle

MARSHFIELD, Mo. – The war in Ukraine and all the horrors that come with it have hit perilously home for this Missouri woman, who shared her anguish this week with The Heartlander.

Viktoriia Hryshchenko, co-owner of Neverending Game Store in Marshfield, came to the United States as a foreign exchange student several years ago and recently returned to make Marshfield her permanent home. As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine unfolded in recent weeks, she has done her best to stay in contact with family and make sure everyone is safe.

Hryshchenko’s family and friends have stayed safe so far, but remaining family members in Ukraine are hunkered down in their apartment buildings, basements or bomb shelters, she said. As the chaos ensues and Ukrainians continue to stock up on canned goods and other items, store shelves are only expected to get more barren. 

“All the roads you need to go through are being monitored by Russian soldiers,” she said. “Those Russian soldiers – unfortunately, you don’t know if they are going to shoot or not. There have been too many cases where people tried to go home or go to a relative’s home and their whole cars were destroyed. They would just start shooting, and multiple families got burned in cars together.”

Although she encouraged her family to flee to the United States, Hryshchenko said her female family members opted to flee to Slovakia and Poland while the male family members stayed in Ukraine to fight. 

Hryshchenko said since Russia invaded, her grandmother’s windows have been blown out, a neighbor’s house was fired upon and a military tank was lit on fire on her street. Obviously not a safe location, Hryshchenko’s grandmother has since moved in with her parents in Sumy, a northeastern city of Ukraine. 

The Ukrainian government has been providing safety and survival information to its residents, even putting up billboards along main roads with images of Russian military vehicles to highlight the vehicles’ weakest spots. Hryshchenko says the Ukrainian government also has taught residents how to make Molotov cocktails and encouraged throwing them at Russian tanks as they pass by.

Hryshchenko says Russian President Vladimir Putin has created years of horrors to come for the Ukrainian people, and she feels he has always wanted to invade Ukraine since it gained independence in 1991. She said she feels bad for Russian citizens because they have been bombarded with propaganda and probably don’t know what to believe, but are also unable to speak out against the war for fear of retaliation by Putin’s government. 

Hryshchenko believes Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has done a fantastic job in leading the Ukrainian people during the conflict, especially compared to his predecessors. 

“Ukrainian presidents were not always the best, honestly,” she told The Heartlander. “They had (their own) interests and wanted to gain from Ukraine instead of helping people. We have always struggled with our government.”

Former President Viktor Yanukovych was a known Russian sympathizer who rejected the Ukrainian-European Association Agreement in 2014 that would have solidified a partnership between Ukraine and the European Union. After the agreement was rejected, mass demonstrations took place protesting any further ties with Russia, which ended with Yanukovych being ousted by his own government and fleeing to the communist country. He still currently lives in exile in Russia.

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