Russia’s invasion hits hard for local educators with ties to Ukraine

BUTLER COUNTY — Disturbing images of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are even more jarring to two local educators who have strong ties with family and friends in the besieged nation.

They both are worried about a nation they’ve come to love over the years through their family connections and frequent visits.

Liza Skyryzhevska, associate dean of Miami University Regionals, was born in Odessa, Ukraine, a city on the Black Sea.

Professor Skyryzhevska earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in geography from Odessa National University but it’s her worries — not memories of growing up in the Ukraine — keeping her up at nights this week as Russian troops rushed over her homeland’s borders.

“It’s very disheartening,” she said Friday of the invasion. “I couldn’t believe it was happening. I had hope common sense would have prevailed but unfortunately it has not.”

Ukraine gained full independence in 1991, the same year the Soviet Union dissolved into what is now Russia.

So far, she said, there has been no disruption of communication with those still there.

“I talk to them every day and they are very scared. They can hear sirens and they are told to get into shelters if they hear sirens.”

Ukraine is seven hours ahead of America’s Eastern Standard Time and the difference is not conducive to keeping regular hours, she said.

“I’m watching the news constantly, none stop. I’ve had two sleepless nights because I wanted to know all of the details of what is happening.”

“I’m talking to them to keep their spirits up and so I know what the reality is there,” said Skyryzhevska.

That “reality” of Ukraine fighting for its independence is also haunting Lakota East High School Principal Rob Burnside, whose family adopted a child from the country and also fell in love with the nation during visits there as part of their adoption efforts.

“It’s heartbreaking,” said Burnside.

During one of his visits Burnside said he stayed in a hotel about 500 yards from where Ukrainian military dug trenches created to help repel such an invasion.

Watching news stories now on the deadly conflict is “gut wrenching,” he said.

“We were treated so graciously when we were there and we fell in love with Kyiv,” the nation’s capital city.

“To see what they are going through and knowing … their lives are at risk is hard,” he said.

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