A year ago today, Russia's military launched an invasion of Ukraine. It was shocking and frightening, especially for Ukrainians living abroad and watching the war unfold in their home country. That includes MIT student Sasha Horokh, who is director of the nonprofit Mriya and a volunteer with the Ukrainian Cultural Center of New England. They joined GBH Morning Edition hosts Paris Alston and Jeremy Siegel to talk about the last year. This transcript has been lightly edited.
Siegel: Sasha, you were born in Ukraine and lived in Kyiv before coming to school in Massachusetts. And you flew home over the last year to deliver humanitarian aid in your home country. How have you seen things change in Ukraine over the last year?
Horokh: That's a very good question, a pretty hard one. I think that one of the hardest things was to watch it from here, from the U.S. Because first, when you read the news about all the horrible things happening and especially about them happening right next to your home, right next to your family, about your friends dying — it's very hard to be living in a place where people just go on with their lives and somehow expect you to move on and go on with your life too. When I was in Ukraine, it was a lot easier. I spent summer there volunteering on the ground and since January it has been an Independent Activities Period in Ukraine. It is a period in MIT. So that's what I did. Being in the Ukraine is easy in the sense of, it gives you some sense of unity. And there actually was a lot of it over the last year.
I feel that Ukrainian society very much united to stand for freedom and independence. And it shows in so many things: It shows in the way people treat each other, even outsiders, strangers. It shows in the way that people choose to speak to each other, both in terms of language and words they use. It also shows a lot in the way that people help each other whenever something happens. I think most people in Ukraine by now are either in the Ukrainian army defending the country or volunteering to do something to help defenders or people who are victims of Russian violence.
Alston: Sasha, how have your loved ones back home been, and what's the past year been like for them?
Horokh: It's been terrible. I lost many friends. There were like 10, but one by one over the last year.
Alston: I'm sorry.
Horokh: My family is alive, and I'm very thankful for that. My dad stays in Kyiv. That's the capital of Ukraine. It's constantly bombed, as well as any other big cities. He is there alone because my mom and my younger sister are now refugees in the U.K. My grandparents are also in Kyiv, and they cannot even move to the bomb shelter because my grandad is partially paralyzed. And my other grandparents are in Sumy, that's an eastern Ukrainian city. My grandma watched Russian tanks having a battle with the Ukrainian army on her street and she was watching it from her basement window.
My almost 75-year-old grandad was biking five miles one way to the hospital and back because it's where he works, and if he took a car, it would be too likely to be shot during the battles in the city. So they definitely could be better. But yeah, they're alive. And the bar is low, but I'm thankful for that.
Siegel: Having these conversations with your family and seeing what people you know have experienced back home, you mentioned earlier how odd it can be to live in a place where life is continuing to go on. And I think for a lot of people — I don't know what the right word is, it feels like people have become jaded to the war. It's been a year at this point. And I'm curious what you think people living in Massachusetts, or living somewhere else and listening right now, should know about your experience and the experience of people back home that's impossible for them to understand given where we are.
Horokh: I agree. It's impossible to understand for people how it feels and how it goes. And I feel that it's a good thing that people do not understand that, because before it happens, you have a completely different idea of it. But I think the important point is to remember that the war is going on, or a battle is going on. And actually, every next day it's harder and harder. It's more cruel and more cruel. And Russian war crimes are more terrifying and more terrifying. So I think it's important that we do not get used to this, and to keep supporting Ukraine. As a director at my nonprofit, it's also very hard to fundraise for Ukraine lately. It gets harder and harder every next day because as people get used to war and move on with their lives, they are less and less willing to support. But the battle still goes, so we have to do everything that you could.
Alston: Sasha, to that point, and to what Jeremy was saying earlier: We've been hearing about numerous polls that show that American public support for the aid that the U.S. is giving to Ukraine is waning, because they feel like there are other places where those resources could be allocated. What would you say to those people?
Horokh: I feel it's very important to realize that supporting Ukraine is not charity. The way U.S. supports Ukraine, it supports all the values that U.S. stands for, which are democracy, freedom and a civilized world that Ukraine is standing for, not only for itself. Also, there was a Budapest Memorandum in 1994, if I'm not mistaken, where Ukraine gave up nuclear weapons. And several countries joined safety assurances for Ukraine to ensure that if anyone attacks, Ukraine is going to have all the resources it needs to defend itself. One of those countries was Russia, which is pretty ironic. But among other countries there also was the U.S. So I feel it's important for people to realize that supporting Ukraine is keeping up to the words they gave, and keeping the value of their promises high.