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"My mother is in Kyiv": Ukrainians on the Central Coast share their stories

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Courtesy of Annie Doryk-Cappelli
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Ukrainians and their allies attend a march in Santa Barbara on February 26.

It’s been two weeks since the Russian military invaded Ukraine. Two million Ukrainians have fled the country, and according to the United Nations, more than 400 civilians are confirmed dead.

Now Central Coast locals with ties to Ukraine are sharing their stories.

Annie Doryk-Cappelli is a Ukrainian-Canadian living here on the Central Coast. She went to a march in Santa Barbara a few weeks back to support Ukraine. It was just one of hundreds of anti-war rallies organized across the globe since February 24.

Doryk-Cappelli said when Russia invaded, her first instinct was to go to Ukraine to support the resistance. But she said she wouldn’t be sure of how to help and her son is here.

Instead, she’s been finding ways to act locally by making posters supporting Ukraine.

Doryk-Cappelli said she felt empowered by the crowd at the march. She felt anger toward the violence, and she felt pride for Ukraine.

During the march, a woman approached her. She was a stranger.

<strong>March 6:</strong> People arrive by train to Lviv, Ukraine.
Claire Harbage
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NPR
<strong>March 6:</strong> People arrive by train to Lviv, Ukraine.

“She stops me and she says ‘Are you Ukrainian?’ And I looked at her and I said ‘Yes…’ And she goes ‘I’m Russian,'" Doryk-Cappelli said.

For a moment, Doryk-Cappelli said she froze, overwhelmed by emotion and unsure of how to react. But then she threw her arms around the woman and hugged her.

Doryk-Cappelli said her experience speaks to the true cost of war — the burden that people on both sides of a conflict feel, and how it changes how they interact with even their neighbors.

This experience is a microcosm of what the world has seen from many Russian citizens opposing the war. According to the monitoring group OVD-Info, more than 13,000 Russians have been detained at anti-war rallies since the start of the invasion.

Doryk-Cappelli, like a lot of people, said she’s horrified by that. She said it’s hard not to feel helpless, but she’s finding a path forward through sharing information with her community and asking others to do the same. “This feels like a time to take action," she said.

Dr. Oksana Yakushko, is a Ukrainian immigrant and U.S. citizen living in Santa Barbara. She’s a psychologist and professor. She came here almost 30 years ago to study after the Soviet Union fell.

Much of her immediate family has been based in Kyiv, Ukraine her whole life. Yakushko’s sister and her children were able to flee. But some of her family is still there.

“My mother is in Kyiv and she’s close to the war zone,” Yakushko said.

Yakushko said her family has been trying to get her mother out of Kyiv for days.

“She’s been there mostly by herself and so she’s not safe. We are trying to see if we can help her leave but we don’t know if we can,” Yakushko said.

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Claire Harbage/NPR
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Soldiers and priests walk into the Church of the Most Holy Apostles Peter and Paul on Tuesday in downtown Lviv, Ukraine, carrying a cross and an image of Ivan Koverznev, a Ukrainian lieutenant who was killed by Russian forces on March 2.

Like Doryk-Cappelli, Yakushko said it’s hard to watch everything from afar, especially feeling so distant from her family. But she tries to keep the lines open.

“It’s often quite terrifying. So I just stay, often for hours, with her on the phone just talking about everything and keeping her company," Yakushko said.

Yakushko echoes Doryk-Cappelli’s call for action. She said she is spending much of her time rallying the local community to find ways to resist. She’s even asking people to write to local government officials.

“Ask them to act in the most expedient, fast, best and active manner to stop the war,” Yakushko said.

Yakushko is also urging people to find ways to support refugees.

“My sister now is a refugee," Yakushko said. "And that’s people — people with children who left everything behind. Everything.”

She said she hopes people don’t turn away from the crisis. She wants people to see this war as a wake-up call.

“Yes, stand with Ukraine and then stand with the world against wars and dictatorships and violence," Yakushko said.

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Rachel Showalter first joined KCBX as an intern from Cal Poly in 2017. During her time in college, she anchored and reported for Mustang News at Cal Poly's radio station, KCPR. After graduating, she took her first job as a Producer at KSBY-TV. She returned to the KCBX team in October 2020 and now reports daily for KCBX News. Rachel spends her off-days climbing rocks, cooking artichokes and fighting crosswords with friends.
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