Summit County residents with ties to Ukraine and Russia fear for what’s to come overseas
A solidarity gathering is being planned for 1 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 27, for those who want to stand and unite with local Ukrainians
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the types of family members Andrii Iwashko has living in Ukraine.
To some, the conflict between Ukraine and Russia might feel like worlds away but for a few Summit County residents, the events unfolding overseas hit close to home.
When Russian forces began invading Ukraine last week, it put the world on edge as people from around the globe watched in shock. To some, the last few months of Russia’s steady buildup of militant forces at the border foretold what was to come but even still, Summit County community members with ties to the region were shocked the attack extended past the eastern separatist region and into the western part of Ukraine.
One such individual is Andrii Iwashko, chief operating officer and head roaster of Breck Coffee Roasters. Born in Chicago, Iwashko’s family moved back to their home in Kyiv, the capitol of Ukraine, when he was 2 years old. Iwashko said his childhood was enriched with the history of Ukraine and that he “wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”
“Kyiv is historically one of the most beautiful, culturally rich locations in all of Europe,” Iwashko said. “It’s been around for centuries and centuries. It’s seen the rise and falls of several empires and you feel that when you live there. I was lucky enough to go to an international school so being surrounded (by) people all around the world just amplified the life in Kyiv and being exposed to cultures, history helped mold me in to the man I am today.”
Iwashko moved to Colorado after finishing high school so he could attend the University of Colorado Boulder. After graduating, he moved to Summit County in 2016 and has lived here since.
For the past two weeks, Iwashko said his parents happened to be visiting him and early last week, they were to return to Ukraine. Their flight got canceled and they have been stalled in Denver ever since, but Iwashko said his grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews all still remain in Kyiv, where Russian forces are currently advancing.
“The heartbreaking part is … that there is no place that is safe within Ukrainian lines,” Iwashko said. “All of Ukraine is being attacked.”
Iwashko said many Ukrainians have dachas, which are small homes outside the city used for small getaways. He said his family is sheltering in their own dacha and that for now, they are together and safe. For now, Iwashko said he’s trying to offer support and solidarity.
“You hear it in their voice — the best thing you can do here in the western world is stay calm and logical,” Iwashko said. “If we can’t do it here, how do we expect all of our loved ones (and) service people to be doing that on the battlegrounds?”
Alma resident Valentine Kinash, who works at The Canteen Tap House and Tavern in Breckenridge, said Ukrainians such as himself are tired of being asked if they are OK. Kinash is from Lviv, the biggest city in the western part of Ukraine. One of his brothers and his father recently took up arms to join the fight, his sister fled to Poland and his grandmother and mother are staying in Lviv. His younger brother, who is 18 years old, is fearful that he will be drafted into the military.
“We appreciate worrying about us but stop asking how are we because we are not good,” Kinash said tearfully. “Our families are being bombed, our kids, sisters, women (are) crying.”
Kinash said he had expected this kind of conflict to happen based on Russia’s military decisions the last few months.
“It’s open war and in 2014, we told all of Europe and all of the world that if it will not be stopped right now, it will be going and going,” Kinash said. “Eight years later, we are in war and (Russian President Vladimir Putin) will not stop in Ukraine.”
Both Iwashko and Kinash pointed to Ukraine and Russia’s intertwined cultures, which makes the conflict that much more complicated. Russians are prohibited from speaking out against the government and many have been arrested for doing so. Since the invasion started, Kinash said his Russian friends in the United States have experienced bullying and hatred. He stressed that the events unfolding in Ukraine are not their fault.
Silverthorne resident Alexander Kostiv is three-fourths Ukrainian and one-fourth Russian, and though most of his family no longer lives in either country, he understands how ingrained each of the cultures are with one another. Kostiv’s mother recently took an impromptu trip to Ukraine just before the invasion began. He said she’s spent most of the week traveling by train through the country and flying from Poland to get back to Chicago, where she currently lives and where Kostiv was born and raised.
Kostiv said he’s tried to keep up a normal routine throughout the week though it feels as if he’s in shock. He, like Iwashko and Kinash, noted that many Russians do not support what their leadership is doing to Ukraine.
“Some of them don’t support the Russian government, a lot of them don’t,” Kostiv said. “It’s actually illegal to protest the war in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, so you’ll see videos of people trying to protest but they go to jail right away.”
Inna Dietrich is a Texas resident who owns a second home in Breckenridge. She’s originally from Kharkiv, one of the first Ukrainian cities invaded by Russia. Most of her family no longer lives in the city but some friends do. Some of these friends have called her family saying they were sheltering in the subway, only leaving for an hour a day to find supplies for fear of the bombings.
“I think the world is a lot smaller than we know, and there’s a lot of people in the U.S. with ties to both Russia and in the Ukraine, and no one is happy about this war,” Dietrich said. “So it hits home as we’re watching in real time, people suffering and dying needlessly and we’re sitting here helplessly.”
Iwashko and Kinash both have family in Ukraine, and depending on how the next few days go, they said they might travel to Europe to help on the frontlines. In the meantime, Iwashko said he’s helping organize a solidarity gathering in the Wendy’s parking lot in Silverthorne at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 27, for those with ties to the region and those who want to support Ukrainians.
“I think the best way to put it is that we’re all Ukrainians at this point,” Iwashko said. “Because this war is so unjustified, Putin did not launch a war against only Ukrainian people. He launched war on democracy, on freedom, on the rights of any sovereign nation. This affects us all one way or another. This is a battle for all of us.”
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