IDALOU, Texas — In March, EverythingLubbock.com told the story of Ann, 19, who had been an exchange student in Idalou, Texas who returned to Ukraine after living in Idalou for the 2018-2019 school year. On Monday night, we spoke with Ann again.
Ann fled her hometown in favor of the safety of Poland in February as Russian soldiers invaded. Ann more recently left the safety of Poland to seek cheaper medical care in Uman, Ukraine.
As Ann boarded an overnight bus that would take her back, she thought she would be alone, but she found good company on a bus packed full of women and children just as eager to return home.
“I was worried when I had to go home because it’s still not safe in Ukraine, but at the same time, it was kind of inspiring for me,” Ann said. “I wanted to see my family so much because I missed them.”
“That feeling of being home — that feeling of being in your house,” she said. “In Ukraine, we say the house is your castle and you have to protect it.”
Even in the relative safety of her small, centrally located city, anti-tank barricades filled the streets and cars lined up for blocks with drivers hoping to get small rations of petrol.
Shortages in groceries, gas, and jobs have her community longing for normalcy. Ann’s father is one of the many Ukrainians who lost their jobs.
“You go in the street, and you don’t see smiles,” Ann said. “You don’t see happy people. Yes, people get used to alarms and explosions, but it’s still not the same.”
“I think after the war will finish, my city and the whole Ukraine will change. It will change their understanding of situations — their reality. I guess people will enjoy their life in a different way and will value it,” Ann said. “They don’t dream about the new car, to be famous or rich. They just want to go home, to have dinner with the whole family and go for a walk. But they lack of this.”
A shortage of commodities was met with an abundance of compassion.
Uman is the safe center for displaced Ukrainians who cannot or will not leave the country. Ann said the city of 100,000 people has hosted 20,000 additional people fleeing starvation and relentless airstrikes in the besieged cities of Donetsk, Luhansk, and Mariupol.
A refugee herself, Ann returned to find her family helping others.
“I know a family who came from Mariupol, and I saw their car, which was totally destroyed without even glass. They had no clothes, small backpacks,” Ann said. “And they were looking for clothes.”
“My mom took pretty much all my clothes I had here and gave it to them because they have a 17-year-old daughter. It was terrifying for them, but they were so thankful for everything they have here.”
Ann’s host family in Idalou also extended a helping hand. Ann says the family offered to host her again in Texas and was a vital source of information in the early days of the invasion. She hopes all Americans can extend her people the same support.
“What I would say to Texan people – firstly, thank you for hosting our people. Keep doing it because we need your help,” she said. “Spread true information, and actually just talk about this — because history should be written, and it should be written in the right way.”
“I’m convinced that with help from the U.S. government, with the help from the whole America, we will win this war.”
Ann cannot stay home for long. She worries, along with many other residents, that Russia will mount the largest attack yet on May 9 — Russia’s “Victory Day.”
She will travel back to Poland to join her mother and brother, but her father is not allowed to leave.
Yet she remains optimistic and appreciative of the lessons learned during her time in West Texas.
“This war has had an impact on me. I have changed a lot,” Ann said. “We will win, and we will wait for this war to be over. And we will celebrate it.”