Mainers with ties to Ukraine are helping relatives flee, and educating locals about the war
As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine grinds on, Ukrainians in Maine are watching with a mix of disbelief, anger and worry. But even from thousands of miles away, some are trying to help out however they can — including one man from Bath who’s flying to Poland in hopes of getting his family to safety.
Sitting in a study room at the public library in Brunswick, Misha Klimov pulled out his phone and scrolled through a text message conversation with his sister in Ukraine. Then he played back a voice message she sent him earlier this month.
"And she’s giving me details about where they are, 10 kilometers from the Polish border," Klimov said.
Klimov’s sister sent him this message after making a harrowing cross-country journey from her home in the east to what at the time was seen as the relative safety of western Ukraine. She had traveled with her daughter-in-law and two young grandchildren.
But that sense of safety was shattered when Russia attacked a nearby military base on Sunday — and Klimov’s sister is now trying to get them into Poland.
If they are able to cross the border, Klimov will be there to meet them. He’s flying to Poland this week, and plans to accompany them to France, where a friend of his has agreed to take them in. At least, that’s the plan.
"Because the situation changes all the time. They can bomb all the time," Klimov said, referring to the Russian military. "They just bomb everything."
Klimov is originally from Kazakhstan, but he grew up in Ukraine, and still has lots of friends and relatives in the country. He and his wife moved to the US in 2000. They now live in Bath, and Klimov teaches French at the Chewonki school in Wiscasset.
Klimov is not involved with any organized response effort, but is part of the informal evacuation work being undertaken by Ukrainians all across the world, including in Maine.
In Bar Harbor, Danylo Shuvalov has been making similar arrangements on behalf of his family in Ukraine.
"I've been contacting friends that I have around Europe to see if they could host my brother and his girlfriend for a little bit," Shuvalov said.
Shuvalov, a senior at College of the Atlantic, is from Ukraine’s capital city, Kyiv. He said he was able to find his brother a temporary place to stay, with a friend of a friend in Barcelona.
"I'm just trying to do whatever I can from here, you know," he said.
In addition to arranging housing for his brother, Shuvalov has served as an information conduit to his family. Shuvalov said he first learned of the invasion by watching a speech by Russian President Vladimir Putin on YouTube, while his parents were still asleep in predawn Kyiv. He woke them up with a phone call to tell them what was happening.
"And then I was talking to my mom and at some point her voice just went quiet. And I understood that she heard explosions," Shuvalov said. "Because as soon as that speech was over, the missiles started hitting major cities in Ukraine right away."
His parents have decided to remain in Kyiv. But sometime after the initial invasion, Shuvalov said he helped convince his brother to flee the port city of Odessa, after passing along new reports of a planned Russian attack on the city.
While Shuvalov has been conveying information to his family in Ukraine, Valerie Royzman, a reporter with the Bangor Daily News and daughter of Ukrainian immigrants, has been writing about the war for her readers here.
"To share that personal connection and show Mainers, 'Hey, there's actually somebody living in Maine who this is very close to,' and here's what I mean by that," Royzman said.
Royzman’s parents fled Ukraine in the early 1990s after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. They settled in Ohio, where Royzman was born and grew up.
She now lives in Dover-Foxcroft, where she reports primarily on Piscataquis County. Recently, though, she’s also contributed articles and an op-ed about the war in Ukraine and its impact on people with friends and relatives in the country. Royzman said it’s like being able to tell her parents' story in a way that they weren’t able to.
"When they arrived," she said, "they could only say maybe a few words in English."
Meanwhile, on the eve of his trip to Poland, Klimov said he was feeling anxious about all the variables that could derail his plan to help deliver his family to safety. But, he said, he felt a duty to remain steady.
"For us, we have to always remain hopeful and calm and balanced," Klimov said. "That's what I'm working on."
Klimov hopes to eventually bring his family to the U.S. or Canada.