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Russian invasion of Ukraine hits home in Missoula

Posted at 4:45 PM, Feb 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-01 15:24:45-05

MISSOULA — Russia and Ukraine held their first talks Monday as the conflict between both countries entered the fifth day.

Ukraine says its military defense has been strong, causing Russia to suffer heavy losses.

Additionally, the sanctions the U.S. and its Western allies have placed on Russia also appear to be taking a toll.

People around the world are also experiencing an emotional toll as the invasion of Ukraine continues.

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MTN News met two people from Missoula who are feeling the impacts from both sides of the line.

"My heart is really uneasy and my heart is breaking,” said Ekaterina Bays who is from Russia.

The war — which is over 5,000 miles away — feels as distant as the reports on TV.

But for Katya Bays, it’s the distance from the fighting that makes this war so unbearable to watch.

“I don’t know. Just sitting here in the comfort of my own home, how else can I help them? It’s the worst feeling that I cannot do anything about it.”

Ekaterina Bays
Ekaterina Bays

Back in her homeland of Russia, Katya’s family hunkers down. It isn’t a war they want, but to protest comes at a cost.

“I spoke to my mom, and she told me about what they're seeing, and over 3,500 people as of today in Russia are arrested for openly protesting, they are just taking them to jail,” Katya told MTN News.

Communication is hit or miss right now as Russia restricts certain apps. Breaking into her native language, Katya shares what she'd say to her family if she could see them face to face.

“I pretty much said, ‘Fight. Protect yourself. Protect your country, protect your families. My Russian families, stay strong. Don't be afraid',” Katya explained.

Poring over the news, Katya finds comfort in the small community of Russian and Ukrainian Missoulians — friends like Mykhailo Lytiuga who is from Ukraine.

Mykhailo Lytiuga
Mykhailo Lytiuga

In another life, they’d be separated by the same border tearing people apart right now, but in Missoula, their shared cultural history makes them feel as though they’re family, and family is something Mykhailo needs right now as he waits.

“Two of my daughters stay in Ukraine, and right now they’re both trying to protect Ukraine as they can. My oldest daughter is a composer, she is a piano player, but right now, at this time, she’s sleeping in the Kyiv subways that have been transformed into bomb shelters for ordinary people.”

His daughters -- ages 22 and 25 -- send messages from their hometown of Kyiv when they can. Venturing onto the streets, his oldest Mariia finds patriotism in paint as she destroys Russian military markings. She, like many Ukrainians, plans to fight for her freedom.

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“They hit Ukraine only because we want to have our own culture, own language, own history, and the ability to choose who is our friend and who is not,” Mykhailo said. “Right now, Ukraine fights for its independence."

Worlds away, Mykhailo is stuck in a waiting game. All he can do is hope for the best.

“Hug. Hug,” Mykhailo says when asked what the first thing he’s going to do when he sees his daughters.

But for now, he can only dream of that embrace, "For now, for me, it’s really hard to think about this day because previously I thought it would be this summer, but right now I completely have no idea."

Mykhailo urges supporters of Ukraine to donate to the cause as the fighting and destruction unfolds.