She fled the war in Ukraine to make a new life in Seattle
Olga is 21 and a refugee from Ukraine where the Russian invasion has been raging since Februrary. Now living in West Seattle her journey has taken many turns, and she's been a witness to the horrors of war. Out of concern for her safety and her family, her last name is being withheld. Here is her story:
"I was born in Sebastapol, Crimea, when it was still part of Ukraine and lived with my parents until they divorced.
My mom and I moved to a small village 18 km north of the capital, Kyiv.
Villages in Ukraine are rural, people living on what they can grow themselves. No internet access, no cellphones, nowhere near the major cities. It's a quiet life with pets and farm animals, family often spread out as young people leave to make their way in the world.
My mother is a nurse and over the course of ten years we moved to two other villages as I grew up. I was a good student and graduated from high school with good enough grades to go to university. I took a small room in a dormitory in Kyiv. I also had a job at the time. I was close to getting my Bachelors Degree in Germanic Languages and Literature when the Russian invasion of Ukraine began in February of 2022.
It was 5 am and I was sleeping. My phone began ringing. It was my mom and she told me the war had begun. My first reaction was, "Maybe you took something wrong. It seemed like it was a bad joke or fake news from the internet. I thought, ok, I need to go to work because my boss will be disappointed. But I laid down again to sleep but my neighbor knocked on my door door two minutes later and said she got a similar call from her parents. We looked at each other in silence and we started to pack our things. We were thinking, 'What can we do now' since we didn't have much information. Nobody knew what to do. We couldn't believe that the invasion was happening because it's nonsense that the country calls us "brothers and sisters" can commit these kinds of acts.
My mom told us we should move back up to our village and she thought that in a few days everything would be alright. My grandmother lived in a village that was closer to Kiev. So I tried to catch a bus to go to her house but everyone was trying to get out of the area. It was so crowded. I saw many families pack their clothes in the car and crowd on to buses but I don't have a car. I only had myself and I was just trying to survive. Communication became impossible when the Russians started to jam the signals. I went to stay with my grandmother we would go out together to run errands and do shopping. Then in March of 2022 I was not there for a time and her grandmother went out by herself. I heard the whistle of the rockets and feared the worst.
A neighbor came to where I was and knocked on the gate. My grandmother had been killed in the attack. I went to identify her body and it had been badly destroyed. The community at first buried her body in the yard but then later made her a coffin and gave her a proper burial.
With nowhere to go, I hid in a neighbor's cold basement as the Russian troops were occupying the village. I developed kidney problems and was sick. But after two weeks I had a chance to escape as the troops were leaving and made it to Lviv in western Ukraine. I contacted my grandmother's sister and took a train to where she lives in Italy, and stayed for a month.
I had to find a way to start my life over. My cousin who lives in Seattle was able to help me move. She sponsored my Visa and made my flight arrangements. She used to work at Peel and Press in West Seattle and introduced me to Dan Austin the owner who gave me a job. I'm very grateful to Dan for the opportunity. I feel very safe and welcome here. The people are very nice. My mom chose to stay in Ukraine since she is a nurse and has many patients. I talk with her when I can.
With this job, and help from the government, I was able to afford rent and financially support my mom. I am also studying at south Seattle college and working on getting a driver's license. I don't know if I want to become an American citizen yet. I don't want to be here illegally so the future is not clear. I would like to go back to Ukraine but right now of course it's not safe. I had a classmate in what we call fourth form (high school) but he was in a hot zone in the war and a month ago I saw the news that he died.
I know this. The truth is on our side.
And maybe I can be an example.
I thought my life was horrible but now I really enjoy my life."
Olga keeps an eye on the future and is now looking into learning about a new program offered by Amazon that provides free training for Ukranians both in person and/or virtually with the goal of getting them a job in the cloud computing industry.