Lent by Rehina Solodovnik
Before the Russian military invaded Ukraine, 20-year-old Rehina Solodovnik described her life in the river city of Dnipro as idyllic.
“Before anything happened, I think I had the best possible life. I have a loving family – my grandmother, my aunt, my parents, my little brother was born last year,” she said. “I have a part-time job as an English teacher.”
Some of those she taught were Russians who came in contact with her online, from across the border. When the war broke out, her teaching stopped. But she still gets text messages from the Russians.
“I remember this message clearly. This girl said, ‘I’m so sorry for our government. I know they will not apologize to you for the damage they do to your country, but I will instead. ‘, “Solodovnik recalled. “And it made me cry.”
More than 1 million Ukrainians have fled their homeland during the 10 days since Russia invaded. Yet more than 40 million are left in Ukraine, many struggling with decisions about whether to stay or leave.
Expect to stay
When I spoke to Solodovnik on Tuesday, she said she lived in the Dnipro, a city of about 1 million people on the Dnieper River. The city has so far not been hit by the fighting.
Still, her bags were packed for safety.
Solodovnik is also a student. She is in her final semester at Dnipro National University, where she is studying linguistics and speaking seven languages - Ukrainian, Russian, English, German, Spanish, Chinese and Korean.
One of her teachers at the university is American Michael Sampson.
He is a professor at St. John’s University in New York, who arrived in Ukraine last fall to spend a year as a Fulbright researcher.
With a looming war, he traveled in January and moved to Warsaw, Poland. The university asked if he would continue teaching students online.
“I said, ‘Of course, even if there’s only one person there, I’d be happy to talk to her,'” he remarked. “What I found out is that my role is almost like a counselor now. Just talk to people, let them talk and get their frustrations out, get their fears out. “
In addition to teaching college students, he also worked with several elementary schools.
“My research is with children. Grades two to seven, and I’m trying some of the techniques that I think will improve their learning of English and their ability to write English,” he said.
Sampson is married to a Ukrainian woman, Alona, who is 47. She grew up in Ukraine when it was part of the Soviet Union, and therefore speaks Russian and has an understanding of Russia.
But younger Ukrainians – those born after the Soviet Union broke up in 1991 and Ukraine became an independent country – feel no such connection to Russia.
“I would say the younger children are anti-Russian,” he said. “I asked 25 young people, ‘Should I study Ukrainian or Russian?’ And 100 percent, all 25, said, “Learn Ukrainian.”
Sampson says he is not surprised at how fiercely the Ukrainians are resisting the Russian invasion.
“They are determined to protect their country. They want to take up, they want to take up arms,” he said. “Someone told me that the Russians would probably occupy (the capital) Kiev in a few days, and I said, ‘Well, they can occupy it, but they want 3 million people who do not want them there.’ “
The war closes in
Meanwhile, Rehina Solodovnik was among those determined to stay in her hometown of Dnipro, even though she acknowledged the rising stress.
“I just sit glued to the screen and watch the news 24/7. And this exhausts me in so many ways,” she said.
So last Friday she woke up to the news that the Russians had attacked and seized the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant – less than 100 miles south of her home.
She decided to leave Ukraine. From Saturday night, she traveled in western Ukraine with her aunt and grandmother on her way to the Polish border.
Michael Sampson was waiting to greet her.
Greg Myre is an NPR national security correspondent. follow him @ gregmyre1.
Should I stay or should I go? : NPR
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