Ukrainian’s plea to the world: Don’t forget us

Exclusive: Former first lady Kateryna Yushchenko says Russian strongman is counting on everyone else forgetting Ukraine

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Kateryna Yushchenko (front, right) joins children in an art class in Bucha, Ukraine.

Provided by Kateryna Yushchenko

It came as an early morning plea.

“Please, don’t forget us!”

“Don’t let us go!

“What we ask for more than anything is that people around the world don’t get tired of us and our war and move on.

“That is what [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is counting on.”

The “request” last Thursday was from Chicago-born Kateryna Yushchenko, the wife of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, who had spent three months living “out of suitcases in 10 different countries, speaking, writing, meeting with world leaders and refugees.”

“It is now wonderful to be back in Ukraine, and less frightening than I expected,” she added.

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Bullet holes can be seen in sliding boards at a daycare in Bucha.

Provided by Kateryna Yushchenko

Yushchenko, the child of war refugees fleeing Soviet aggression, grew up among Chicago’s Ukrainian population, and — along with her immediate family — is now on Putin’s list of enemy targets.

“I have been rereading my (Chicago) childhood diaries, about attending St. Volodymyr Orthodox Church, about the Ukrainian dances, about my mother forcing me to read Ukrainian literature, and I pine for those days in Chicago,” she said.

“I wish my children could also live in a time of peace.”

Since her recent return to Ukraine, Yushchenko tells Sneed she is inspired by the Ukrainians who feel “gratitude and determination” for the help their country is receiving … which is also mixed with “anger and hate” at what has happened to their country since the Russian war began.

“They sound like the many refugees I met throughout Europe,” she said. “They talk about the horrors they witnessed, but always end by thanking God it was not worse, or expressing confidence that it will be over soon and they can resume their old lives.

“They understand how much rebuilding will need to be done, but somehow feel it will all work out,” she added.

“I do not know from where this optimism stems, but I think all the years of repression and war have led to resilience and a sense of community.”

Twice daily air raid sirens on Ukraine’s mobile apps are something “Ukrainians have gotten used to,” she said. “No one panics,” she added. “But they are always accompanied by a fatalistic feeling.

“There is always a possibility that a Russian missile will hit the apartment where you live or the store where you shop, but the chances still seem small,” she said. “I was more frightened when I knew there were Russian troops and tanks only 20 kilometers away.

“But now they have gathered again at the Belarusian border, and many Kyivites are whispering that there will be another invasion soon, but we trust our army,” she said. “My father’s home village in the Kharkiv region is occupied and I fear I will not be able to visit my relatives’ graves.”

In the end, everyone has their personal stories.

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In the “Ukrainian Posters of Wartime” exhibit at the Ukraine House on the European Square in Kyiv is a depiction of a NATO quilt being sewn.

Provided by Kateryna Yushchenko

Kushchenko had her own stories to tell.

∞ A friend’s elderly parents stuck behind enemy lines in a hospital in Kherson; a wife trying to figure out how to buy them a Russian mobile phone card and pay the nurses in rubles, since Ukrainian cards and currency no longer work there; a husband voluntarily signing up to serve in the army, while his mother, the mayor of an occupied town, is cooperating with the enemy!”

∞ The flooded village north of Kyiv of a co-worker, who lives with constant fear a weakened dam on the Kyiv Sea will break and sweep his family home away. “His wife and child are in Spain.”

∞ “A friend now living in Italy with her child; our doctor’s brother-in-law killed defending Azovstal; his sister escaped Mariupol through Russia; it took her several days of traveling to get to St. Petersburg and cross the border into Estonia.”

∞ “A close friend, who escaped to central Ukraine after being held captive in her home in Bucha by Russian soldiers for 10 days, returned home only to realize she was still traumatized and scared,” said Yushchenko. (Bucha had been a Russian slaughterhouse and now is part of a war crimes investigation.)

“But she is organizing many new cultural and educational projects nonetheless,” said Yushchenko. “People are returning, rebuilding, determined to overcome and live normal lives.

Hoping someday to bring an exhibit of posters to Chicago about the war by artists “making statements to the world through art,” Yushchenko now listens to a new radio station in her car — Radio Bayraktar: Music of our Victory. “There are new songs every single day,” she said.

Then she added:

“We are sad, but we are also more determined than ever.

“Please, don’t forget us.”

The COVID corner…

He’s got it.

It’s not a shock President Joe Biden, who is fully vaccinated, came down with it.

The COVID variant virus is highly transmissible.

Let’s move on.

And … be glad the daily Biden medical updates deal with a runny nose, dry cough and lessening fatigue; rather then the running litany of bowel movements and intestinal diagram updates in 1956, when President Dwight David Eisenhower, diagnosed with what is now known as the incredibly painful Crohn’s disease, insisted the public not be hidden from the truth of his condition.

“Ike” was liked, but the updates were apparently a bit much.

Vroom Doom!

A history note: The late great Chicago restaurateur Arnie Morton, a pitchman behind the creation of Mayor Jane Byrne’s now legendary “Taste of Chicago,” saw all his work behind the creation of Chicago’s proposed 1981 Grand Prix go up in smoke when Byrne, who had wanted to make Chicago the Monaco of North America, caved in to fears of a downtown race on city streets, Park District museum qualms and a negative Mike Royko column.

Hello, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and her latest version of the Great Loop race? There ya go and stay tuned. One never knows what the future will bring.

Sneedlings…

Trump’s bon bot mots: Former President Donald Trump’s bots are now pitching the sale of an “iconic Trump Rally Shirt,” which has no fewer then 17 photos of his face on the front encircling a major thumbs up in the center. Hmm. What could possibly be at the back of it? Let me know because this “patriot” ain’t purchasing. ... Saturday birthdays: actor Daniel Radcliffe, 33; actor Marlon Wayans, 50, and guitarist Slash, 57.... Sunday birthdays: actress Jennifer Lopez, 53; baseball great Barry Bonds, 58, and actress Lynda Carter, 71.

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