WAILUKU — Like other Ukrainians transplanted to Maui, Dasha Schmidt is not alone in her sleepless nights and her constant worry for her family and her former country under attack from Russia.
“I find it difficult to speak. I have trouble sleeping. I have trouble eating. It’s hard for me to live right now.” Schmidt tearfully said during a ceremony outside the county building to proclaim Wednesday as “Ukrainian Solidarity Day” in Maui County.
Schmidt will send photos and videos of the county event to his mother, who is sheltering in place in a basement.
“It will give him some hope” she says.
The Ukrainian national anthem, “Shche ne vmerla Ukraine” (Ukraine has yet to perish), was played as the country’s flag was hoisted in front of the county building on Wednesday morning.
Ukrainian Americans sang, some with tears in their eyes.
Originally slated to stand only all day, the flag will remain raised until the end of the conflict, Mayor Michael Victorino said at the ceremony.
The county building was also to be lit in blue and yellow, the colors of the Ukrainian flag, on Wednesday evening.
“This community calls from its heart for peace in Ukraine”, said Victor. “A lot of us really feel a real sense of loss because of what we see what the war did and now we see it again.
“War never solves much, but it hurts so many. So we pray in solidarity,” said Victor.
Kihei’s Yuliya LaBrosse said her 60-year-old father would not leave the country.
“He would rather die than see his country destroyed” she says.
LaBrosse has relatives, friends and classmates all over Ukraine and keeps in touch via the internet, although coverage can be spotty at times.
On his Facebook account, LaBrosse said the people of Ukraine are asking people to come out and protest and ask for help to stop Putin.
LaBrosse came to Maui in 2005 and brought her mother in 2014, when Russia invaded Ukraine and took over Crimea.
LaBrosse is soft-spoken and admitted she wasn’t comfortable being in the spotlight. But she was called on Wednesday to receive the mayor’s proclamation and spoke to reporters on behalf of the action.
“When the war started, I felt really helpless, I cried for days”, said the 38-year-old. “I wanted to do something.”
When asked if his family and friends would leave Ukraine, LaBrosse said it was not so easy, as those waiting to cross the Polish border face a mile-long line and it may not be safe to try to escape.
Dmytro Khilko, from Haiku, who came to New York in 1997 and then to Maui in 2010, said his hometown of Lviv in western Ukraine has yet to be bombed .
“I hope the Russian army never gets there, but you never know. None of us expected what was going to happen in the first place,” the 46-year-old said after the county ceremony.
“I think the world, including Ukraine, underestimated Putin. I think we all underestimated Putin at that time,” he added.
“But I also think Putin underestimated Ukraine and underestimated the world. The rest of the world’s response to the crisis at all levels, from individuals to politicians to presidents, has been incredible. The unit was amazing.
Stanislav G. Mokan from Kihei came to the ceremony carrying the Ukrainian flag, which had been made for him by a friend’s wife.
“It is very sad what is happening there. My dad still has a lot of family there,” said Mokan, who came to the United States and settled in Oregon with his family when he was 11.
“Last week has been very stressful, I can’t sleep. I try to put myself in these people’s shoes – they can’t sleep normally, waking up to the sound of bombs and sirens etc.
The 35-year-old said he was grateful his family moved to the United States with their 10 children. His parents are still in Oregon and he communicates with his cousins in Ukraine. His family is near the Romanian border.
Mokan described the situation as “horrible.”
“I can’t imagine having kids and going through this” says Mokan, who is the father of two boys.
His wife is also from Ukraine, but his family is also mostly in the United States.
According to a county news release, Maui County residents seeking to help Ukrainian war refugees can donate to the Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund at www.globalgiving.org/projects/ukraine- crisis-relief-fund/.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at [email protected]