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A Year of Fear: Local Ukrainian residents reflect as 1 year anniversary of Russian invasion approaches

KESQ

Friday marks one year since Russia invaded Ukraine. It’s made a big impact on millions of people worldwide, and even here in the Coachella Valley.

News Channel 3's Samantha Lomibao caught up with two local Ukrainian business owners who have been directly impacted by the war.

Elena Vitkovskaya has owned Marmelad Beauty House for 3 years. Every day, she opens up her shop, preps her tools and gets ready for her clients to come in.

“I work by myself at my little, private spa," Vitkovskaya said.

However, her ordinary day took a turn on February 24th, 2022.  It’s when she got news of Russia invading Ukraine, the two places where her family and friends still reside.

She described the first thoughts to came to mind.

"Like at first, I was so shocked. You know, because it was impossible to understand," Vitkovskaya said.

Growing up with a Russian father and Ukrainian mother, she felt her two worlds collide.

"For us, we like never divide Russian, Ukrainian, Belarus, you know,” Vitkovskaya said.

Vitkovskaya told us she was constantly worrying about her loved ones.

"It was so stressful and in one moment like, I closed my business because you know I feel like I can’t work emotionally," Vitkovskaya said.

After about a week, she said she had to do something to help- even from half a world away.

"And I think if like, I don’t work, I can’t help you know. Like I need to be strong and keep doing my life," Vitkovskaya said. “We need to work because they can’t”

But Vitkovskaya was not alone.

Just a little more than a week after the invasion, Lomibao sat down with Vitkovskaya as she packed boxes of essentials to send home. People throughout the local community got word of what she was doing, and decided to help.

"Like one day I was full office of packages like package, package, boxes," she explained. "A lot of people who don’t know me, who don’t have nobody from Ukraine you know. But they bring like stuff and they want to send it.”

Vitkovskaya received an outpour of community support since the invasion began, and she wasn’t the only one.

Just down the street from her shop lies Haus of Pizza in Palm Desert. The owner, Iryna Pyle, was born and raised in Ukraine. Pyle tells us she also felt the support from her customers.

“Of course, we appreciate prayers but… we need more than that,” Pyle said.

She moved to the desert 15 years ago, but her mother and brother still live in Ukraine.

When asked if she missed home, Pyle said "It’s different home now. It’s different.” 

News Channel 3 caught up with Pyle when the invasion began on February 24, 2022. And one year later, she tells us not much has changed in her home country.

“It will be like different country. Different. Military ruins, like it will be different country. No civilization. Russians destroyed whole country for sure," she explained.

It’s part of the reason why Pyle selling her restaurant.

“I’m sad to sell it. This place is in escrow and I have to go back to Ukraine to move my mom to Germany because she’s said it’s time for her to have quiet nights. Quiet nights because Russians are sending missiles in the night." 

It’ll be the first time Pyle has gone back to Ukraine and seen her mother since the invasion.

"Everything is super hard right now," she said. "Because they do not understand good language. All they understand is that you have to hit it back. You have to fight. This is the only language they understand.”

It’s a war that’s been going on for years. 

Although Pyle hopes it come to an end, she doesn’t think it’s going to anytime soon.

"Well it’s not going to stop, and we cannot give up," she said. “I will miss my customers, I will miss you guys but I have to do it. Some people crossing the country, some people crossing the oceans. We have to do what we have to do.”

Check Out Some of Our Previous Local Coverage of the Russia-Ukraine Invasion:

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Samantha Lomibao

Samantha joined KESQ News Channel 3 in May 2021. Learn more about Samantha here here.

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