‘Horror unfolding’: How life has changed for Ukrainian refugees in Hawaii a year after war started

The war has drawn on for more than a year now.
Published: Mar. 2, 2023 at 3:07 PM HST|Updated: Mar. 2, 2023 at 3:48 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Dozens of people rallied at the state Capitol late last month to mark a grim milestone: One year ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin launched an invasion of Ukraine, calling it a “special military operation.”

The operation instead turned into an all-out war that destroyed towns, homes and killed thousands. And a year later, there’s still no end in sight.

Millions of Ukrainians fled the war-torn country — and about 125 sought safe haven in Hawaii, including Anna Sakovtseva and Anna Baryshnykova.

In October, Hawaii News Now published a documentary highlighting their experiences fleeing their homeland all the way to Hawaii.

When Sakovtseva first heard rockets and low-flying planes in her hometown of Kyiv, only one thought came to her mind.

“Now I die, Now I die,” she said. “That’s all. It is finished.”

That was the start of what would soon be a year-long war.

She, along with thousands, escaped the country and fled from apartment to apartment — eventually finding her way to Hawaii.

She arrived on a tourist visa. But after the visa expired, she had to return to Ukraine — back to the country she tried to escape.

What was once her homestead didn’t look the same as she remembered it.

SPECIAL SECTION: Ukrainians in Hawaii

“When I come back to Ukraine in Kyiv, feel very strange feeling inside because, you know, when you see your home and you see how different everything you know, how change everything,” Sakovtseva said.

“Sometimes on our phone that missiles come … I remember 10 October, Russia again sent missiles in Kyiv and it was awful again, again awful night.”

That same feeling she felt when the war began returned in that moment.

“Again scared inside, you know, you feel like this feeling again because after sometime you forgot about this feeling,” Sakovtseva said.

She said that while she is thousands of miles away, Ukraine is always on her mind.

“I really miss for my home,” she said. “My mom is still there and I speak with her two time a day. Every time I check news … it’s very difficult, a lot of people die every day and need more support. I know that a lot of countries support Ukraine but need continue support.”

“Of course I pray for Ukraine and I think now situation I communicate with my friends and now situation in Ukraine.”

After a month in Ukraine, she was able to return to Hawaii through a different program.

She said that she is now eligible to purchase medicine and insurance, and even has a Hawaii driver’s license.

“I get some benefits, SNAP and financial assistance also I go to American job center … maybe everything will be good. I go to study in medical college, in Hawaii medical college,” Sakovtseva said.

“I get social security number. Yes, I got everything. But I need to find a good job for now, and it’s my goal for now.”

Even after leaving her job, friends and family behind, she shows that you can still make the most out of what you have.

“Now I need to start again my life but I’m ready, I’m ready. I have many goals … you know, even if you lost every material thing it doesn’t material because you can start from nothing but you still alive. It’s important.”

‘Even after a year, we’re still fighting’

Meanwhile, Anna Baryshnykova was with her husband in their home city of Odessa when the Russian invasion began.

Like many Ukrainians at the time, they were in disbelief of what was happening and hunkered down in their home.

As the situation worsened, Baryshnykova’s husband, Oleksandr Sheremet, told her that it wasn’t safe anymore and that she should seek refuge with her sister in Hawaii.

For Sheremet, though, his duty to his country was too important, and like many men in Ukraine, he volunteered to fight.

Baryshnykova was able to make it to Hawaii safely, but the separation from her husband and constant worrying if he’ll be alright has weighed on her.

Sheremet was able to make a trip to see her again last year, but it was only for a month.

“It’s really tough, it’s really difficult,” Baryshnykova said. “And like all men who there, they are struggling, of course, because their women here, I mean, somewhere in Europe, but out of Ukraine. And we are struggling as well, you know, being apart with families. And it’s really very hard. But at the same time, again, however, we are fighting.”

“So we are trying to do something. We’re trying to do what we can being here. And Alex as other men being there also doing everything all the best what they can do to support their country and to help to make this victory closer.”

Baryshnykova said that the one-year mark of the war is saddening, knowing that it has drawn on for so long.

But she said that it does bring out another emotion: pride.

“It also brings me the realization of power of Ukrainian people,” Baryshnykova said. “They have free will to fight for their freedom. To fight for their cities, for their souls, for their lives so they don’t give up. Even after a year, we’re still fighting and we’re still showing to all over the world that what you have inside it is much more important than what you have outside.”

She says that adapting to Hawaii’s culture hasn’t been easy, but she has been able to do it with the help of the Ukrainian community.

“We have a absolutely amazing Ukrainian community here. They’re very supportive. They are trying to help you in any way they can. And it’s really amazing when you have these people by our side.”

Not knowing how much longer the war will go on, she says that support is something the people of Ukraine still need.

“We still need this support, so we need to have this victory together because the victory of Ukraine is a victory of the whole world for freedom, for peace, for safety, for our kids and our families and our countries,” Baryshnykova said.

Repairing Ukraine ... after the longest year

Laura Palafox, of Hawaii Stands With Ukraine, a group supporting the local Ukrainian community, said it’s been a long, drawn-out year ridden with pain and suffering.

“It’s unbelievable that the world can sit on the couch and watch on their TVs — this horror unfolding as if it were some movie. But it’s not a movie,” she said. “The world needs to stand up and take action to say, ‘no, not in my world. This will not be the reality of my world, our world, my children’s world.’”

Palafox said everyone can help in some way, shape or form. All it takes is people coming together to make their voices heard.

“How many drops are there in the ocean, right? Every drop creates that ocean. Every voice, every action will end this war, will restore Ukraine. And that is the final goal, to restore Ukraine as a sovereign country, to also repair what has been done to Ukraine, if that’s even possible. But at least that’s the goal.”