Natick Resident Reflects on Home Country of Ukraine
Even for less-than-casual consumers of news, regular reports of Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine have been hard to miss. Headlines of the event have emblazoned front-pages in print for weeks, been featured on the feeds of so many social-media platforms.
For some, the humanitaria crisis precipitated by the invasion has been a call to action. They’ve launched or donated to relief efforts in Ukraine, have leaned in to pay closer attention to coverage of the country. For others, following the news unfolding in Ukraine is an imperative.
“It’s hard to believe this is going on in Ukraine,” said Lyudmyla Gavrylyak-Machado.
She is a Natick resident and native of the country that has so dominated the news during the past several weeks. For Gavrylyak-Machado and so many of her fellow eastern-European expats, standard news of the war has been supplemented by text messages and emails from family and friends facing danger and displacement first-hand.
“I’m alive,” would sometimes be the extent of such an update.
Gavrylyak-Machado’s aunt remained in the country as the fighting began, hosting refugees in her home in Halych, a city in western Ukraine. That place has remained far afield of the devastation sustained by eastern Ukraine, where so many non-combatants have fled to escape the war.
“They had to keep moving from one place to another,” said Gavrylyak-Machado.
The refuges hosted by her aunt were a family of three - a grandmother, daughter and her 8-year-old son. They had reportedly fled from Mariupol, the south-eastern city that has been the focus of much fighting and media attention. Spring weather in Ukraine can mirror that of New England, with bouts of cold surfacing now and then along a warming trend.
Gavrylyak-Machado came to the U.S. from Ukraine as a student in 2007 as part of an educational summer program. She stayed, earning her nursing degree at Regis College. She met Carlos Machado not long after, gaining a husband and her hyphenated last name.
“I turned 21 here,” she said.
Her parents received their green cards soon after, and came to live with the family in the U.S. She has a sister who lives in California, and their grandmother still resides in Ukraine.
Gavrylyak-Machado’s own daughter is a toddler who toggles between English and Ukrainian when she speaks. Coming in from New England cold these past few months, her parents would pull off her winter cap, uncorking a puff of hair rendered unruly by static electricity.
September of last year, her mother brought the young girl to Ukraine to visit her great grandmother. That was a world and country much changed during the months since. Gavrylyak-Machado recalls seaside visits to south-eastern Ukraine when she lived there years ago. Now, the sounds of the sea are sometimes drowned out by air-raid alarms.
“Ukraine is a really beautiful country. It’s really heartbreaking what’s going on there right now.”
“She had a good time,” she said of her trip there last year with her daughter. “I really want her to know Ukrainian traditions, because that’s how I grew up.” She had planned for them to visit again this summer, a trip that will likely be postponed until some semblance of peace is restored.
“Hopefully, it’s going to be over soon,” she said.
She recalled a country that resembled Europe in its leanings toward the west, while in the east it retained more so its Russian character. Now, those eastern-Ukrainian neighbors flee westward as the fighting further intensifies.
“Who suffers and who has to fight?” she said. “It’s civilian people.”
To have gained citizenship in a new country, established a life there, is often to belong to a small and far-flung adopted family. But bearing distant witness to the invasion and destruction of that native land - such a thing unites that tribe in tragedy as well.
Gavrylyak-Machado has a friend who lives in Belmont, a Ukrainian expat also, whom she stays in touch with. It’s a rare source of comfort and commiseration to talk with a person who is feeling the same things, someone who understands.
The outpouring of relief efforts aimed at alleviating the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine has been a small bright spot amid the dark headlines and images flowing out of the country. Blue and yellow flags have become ubiquitous as a symbol of support, as has been the fundraising on behalf of Ukraine.
“My heart was smiling and crying at the same time,” said Gavrylyak-Machado. “We never had so much support for Ukraine before.”