Orinda Hears Voice of Ukrainians Through Unexpected Connection

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(Nicole Guo, Photographer)
Miramonte High School sophomore, Lila Moss, discusses with Ukrainian teen Myroslav Bur via Zoom about the impacts of the Russian invasion against Ukraine, which began Feb. 24.

    Hastily typing on his phone, Eastern Ukrainian teen Myroslav Bur documented his journey out of Ukraine for his international friends who were deeply concerned for his well-being.
    This cross-cultural connection was facilitated by ENGin, a non-profit organization that matches youth in Ukraine with young English speakers. It has become a lifeline for Bur and other Ukrainian teens, like Sasha Levin and Dymtro Antonchyk, to share their stories with international communities like the small town of Orinda.
    Thursday morning, Feb. 24, 2022, Orinda residents woke to the gut-wrenching news of Russia invading Ukraine which ignited a rapid chatter of discussion across Miramonte High School.
    “I never imagined a war this significant occurring in the 21st Century,” said Miramonte sophomore Lila Moss.
    Across the world, northern Ukrainian teen Levin couldn’t believe it either. “We had expected an attack as early as January, but it was just speculation at that point,” he said. “When it never came, we didn’t think it would ever happen.”
    Since then, millions of Ukrainian civilians have faced the grueling decision of either staying in a war zone or upending everything to escape. 
    Teens like Bur endured days of bombing before evacuating.
    “There were hundreds of people crammed into a 15-car train suited for 60, and thousands more fighting to board,” he said. “We didn’t even know where we were going, and I had to leave my family behind in a Russia-occupied region.”
    Many who remained in Ukraine hunkering down in bomb shelters had to adjust to a new normal, with constant blaring of air-raid warnings. “The first time I heard the siren, it was the most terrifying experience of my life,” said Levin. “But after hearing it more than 50 times, it has become routine, and I don’t pay attention to it anymore.”
    At ENGin, the war has disrupted the typical carefree meetings. Before Feb. 24, students like Antonchyk enjoyed casual banter and watching his favorite shows with his mentor. Afterwards though, a solemn air weighed down sessions.
    Now, Ukrainian students look forward to taking their minds off the terrifying situation at home.
    “The sessions have become more serious than before, but I appreciate having time not to think about the war because it has dominated my life outside the meetings,” said Antonchyk.
    With everything going on, Bur, Levin and Antonchyk just want their stories shared worldwide.
    “I want people to try to understand our perspectives and imagine what we’re going through,” said Bur. “We Ukrainians have our own unique language and culture and are now forced to fight for our freedom. Our home country is suffering and we need help.”
    Many Orinda residents like Moss recognize the importance of hearing perspectives firsthand from Ukrainian teens. “Personal stories are the most compelling,” said Moss. “Now I can imagine what people my age in Ukraine have been going through.”
    For more information about ENGin, visit www.enginprogram.org.

Nicole Guo can be reached at nicoleguo0664@gmail.com.

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