Hanna Tverdokhlib prays with her 7-year-old son, Volodymyr, after placing candles around a Ukrainian genocide memorial to honor children who were killed in the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in Los Angeles, Tuesday, March 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Hanna Tverdokhlib has held her phone as if it were glued to her hand since the Russian invasion of Ukraine last week.
When she isn’t watching news on it, she is texting her cousins and close friends back home or checking their Facebook posts, hoping her cousins are still safe in the bunker underneath their Kiev apartment building, which is where they shelter when the sirens go off.
Waiting to hear back from them is like waiting for death, said Tverdokhlib, 37. “We are asking them every day, texting, ‘How are you guys?’ They give me a few words. It’s super hard.”
She, her husband and their son left their home in a small western city of Ukraine in 2020 and moved to Long Beach, where she stiches together income from her jobs as a nursing assistant, video curator and Lyft driver. Her husband works as a freelance photographer.
They’re among more than 1 million people in the U.S. who report Ukrainian ancestry, according to the Census, with sizable populations in New York City, Chicago, Seattle, Sacramento and Los Angeles. Many are trying to donate money and supplies to their loved ones in Ukraine, seeking advice from immigration attorneys about how to get family here and pleading for world leaders to intervene more forcefully.
Russian forces pressed their war Thursday on Ukraine, seizing a strategic seaport and threatening to overtake a major energy hub even as the two sides met in Belarus and negotiated safe corridors to evacuate citizens. The United Nations says 1 million people have fled Ukraine since the Russian assault started.
From halfway around the world, though, Tverdokhlib feels helpless — and guilty for being safe in the United States — as she watches the war unfold, and angry at what she calls Ukraine’s “monster neighbor,” Russia. She tries to stay calm when her texts aren’t immediately returned. But the psychological toll and tears that follow are bearing on her.
“We are safe here in the U.S. But it’s not easier. Your mind can just explode,” she said.
So she goes to rallies in Southern California to show her support for Ukraine, handing out fliers with QR codes seeking donations. Her 7-year-old son, Volodymyr, draws hearts and messages of support on blue and yellow poster board, for the colors of Ukraine’s flag.
“Russia doesn’t care about anyone,” he says.
On Tuesday night, the family lit candles and placed signs around the Ukrainian genocide memorial in Grand Park, which marks the deaths of millions from the Soviet-engineered famine in 1932-33.
“We try to pray. I don’t know what can — what can else we do?” Tverdokhlib said.
She said the toughest part of all is hearing what her cousin’s children ask: “Mom, would they kill us?”
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