ashland.news
June 13, 2024

Two years in, no end in sight: An Ashland resident’s report from Ukraine

Odessa’s statues are covered up and tourism is nonexistent in a once vibrant city. Susan Lloyd photo
February 23, 2024

With much-needed aid tangled in a partisan knot, an Ashlander asks: ‘America, what are you waiting for?’

Saturday, Feb. 24, marks the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The following is an account by an Ashland resident who was there in January, accompanied by her photographs.

By Susan Lloyd

I jumped off the sofa bed as I heard bomb sirens go off in my friend, Oleksiy’s, family apartment in Odessa. It was terrifying. Oleksiy coolly said the sirens went off every night throughout Odessa province. Was this an actual attack? We all scrambled. It happened just a few weeks ago. His windows weren’t hit this time. But they were last November.

I have a piece of shrapnel he gave me, to prove it.

I’m now back home, but Oleksiy contacted me by WhatsApp a few days ago: new drone attacks again on Odessa’s harbor and in the city. He lives across the street from the harbor in an old apartment building. No heating in the apartment, he said — his family was huddled around the stove in their tiny kitchen. Then just yesterday he wrote to say that Ukrainian soldiers were grabbing people off Odessa’s streets to force them into the Army. He said they wouldn’t believe he was over 60. Somehow, he talked them out of it.

Oleksiy Solyanyk at the site of a drone attack in Odessa. He is talking to a friend who, at that moment, is on the roof of his house and surrounded by Russians. Susan Lloyd photo

Oleksiy has experienced war before, firsthand, right after Russia’s 2014 takeover of Crimea. He owned a country property on the peninsula near Crimea, bought from saved-up money made years ago when he lived and worked in Brooklyn. Russians bombed his property; gardening there at the time, he escaped, lost 40 pounds in a subsequent Russian prison camp, finally made it to the U.S. embassy in Georgia where he regained his U.S. passport, then ultimately returned to Odessa.

Oleksiy Solyanyk, at right, in his Odessa apartment kitchen with Tom Lloyd. He is telling the story of the bombing of his property near Crimea and imprisonment in a Russian camp. Susan Lloyd photo
Volodymyr Zelenskyy look-alike soldier on banner. A statue of Catherine the Great was take off the pedestal and the Ukrainian flag installed. Susan Lloyd photo

The second anniversary of Russia’s invasion 2022 invasion of Ukraine is coming up on Saturday, Feb. 24. Considering Russian dissident Alexei Navalny’s mysterious death in a Siberian gulag and Russia’s recent advances in Avdiivka, we wonder about dragged-out U.S. Congressional deliberations on a funding package to Ukraine, while Europe has sealed an aid deal for $60 billion.

Oleksiy is waiting. He keeps water bottles, suitcases and food parcels in the hallway in case his family needs a quick getaway. His dog, a close companion, had puppies two months ago. He’s quickly giving them away.

Everyone is waiting. What do to? Oleksiy, with his U.S. passport, would like to come to the U.S. But his wife and 85-year-old mother don’t have documents.

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, 6.3 million refugees (as of January 2024) have fled Ukraine since the invasion began, mainly dispersed throughout Europe. Over 5,000 refugees are here in Oregon. They are waiting also.

Organizations such as Uniting for Ukraine (U4U), an international NGO with a chapter based in the Rogue Valley, and the Ashland-Sviatohirsk Aid Project, are aiding the refugees. Denise Crosby, a board member with U4U whom I spoke to, told me they currently provide homes and safety for over 60 individuals and 24 families in the Rogue Valley. They’re in a parole program, which doesn’t guarantee stays over two years. Many of these refugees hope to return home. Someday.

In his apartment hallway, Oleksiy Solyanyk keeps bottled water, suitcases, and food parcels in case his family must make a quick getaway. Susan Lloyd photo

It’s a waiting game.

When will the war be over, they wonder? Or will it?

Down in Izmail, four hours south of Odessa, the port was bombed again just days ago, a repeat of attacks last November. Russia is targeting grain silos. That’s what they’re after. Anything to stop the out-country grain shipments which normally route through the Black Sea.

Just the other day, the Ukrainians have pushed back; one of their drones sunk a Russian war ship off Crimea. But any Russian success in their bombing campaign would ruin the Ukrainian economy.

Trucks line up on the sole highway south, waiting for ferry passage across the Danube into Romania. Susan Lloyd photo

When I first ventured to Ukraine as a reporter and before meeting Oleksiy in Odessa, I’d taken a train from Bucharest to the border, then crossed the Danube by ferry. I was curious about the shipping issues I’d heard about. While I traveled north, hundreds of trucks coming the opposite direction lined the one highway south, waiting to get across the Danube to Romania. I talked with one trucker on the small ferry — which only holds eight to 10 trucks at a time — who’d waited two weeks to cross.

The trucks are waiting endlessly. When they finally get passage on the ferry, the truckers hustle down to Constanta, Romania, to get the grain and other commodities out. One trucker was going all the way to Greece to avoid the Black Sea perils — ships are nervous to chance that crossing: Russian drone attacks, mines in the water. Safer to go by land to more secure ports to off-put the grain and other commodities to keep Ukraine’s economy rolling.

Fellow travelers on train from Bucharest to Ukraine. Susan Lloyd photo

Since returning home, I’ve wanted to send Oleksiy some Ukrainian money I couldn’t exchange after I left. He said to be cautious. Didn’t know who would open the package. Too much corruption in the faltering economy. I’d like to send his mother some spices — anything — for her kitchen. He said to put the money in a toothpaste tube. Now I need to find a mail service that will expedite the package.

Everyone is waiting. Parents are waiting at the bus stops in Odessa for a son or daughter, returning for a quick visit then returning to Romania — or Poland, Moldova, Slovakia — where some have found jobs. Many young people left in the early days of the invasion. But parents, with their own elderly parents not able or wanting to leave, have remained behind. As I was busing south myself, back to Romania, a middle-aged man sobbed as he kissed his daughter goodbye. She was heading to the border on the same bus as me.

Oleksiy, who’d brought me to the bus station, bid me goodbye. Would I see him again? He waved, hunched over in his black jacket. It was snowing. A few hours later and down by the border and ferry crossing, the trucks were still waiting. Lined up for miles.

America, what are you waiting for?

Susan Lloyd is an Ashland author, photographer and filmmaker. Her cross-cultural collection, ranging from Indian folk ritual to Balkan politics, has recently been purchased by the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Businesses are abandoned and streets are empty in southern Ukraine. Susan Lloyd photo
At Odessa bus station, emotional father says goodbye to daughter, returning to Romania. Susan Lloyd photo
Zara Bigvava stands in front of port building in Ismail, bombed in December and covered with green tarps and under reconstruction. Susan Lloyd photo
Southern Ukraine landscape. Susan Lloyd photo
Picture of Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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