Social Issues

Ukrainian expat in Wisconsin connects with a friend in Kyiv

A Madison resident born in Kyiv who connects with a close family friend remaining in Ukraine while his family flees the Russian invasion.

By Marisa Wojcik | Here & Now

March 4, 2022

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What Russia’s unprovoked attack brings for people inside Ukraine and their friends outside its borders is fear and anguish and resolve. A Madison resident born in Kyiv has been speaking with a close family friend who remains in Ukraine.

“The rest of attack we can hear: Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom!” exclaimed Dr. Vitaly Demyanchuk. He was describing the sound of bombs surrounding his city while he continues work at the Kyiv Heart Institute.

“Hour by hour, we can hear bombing attack, bombing alerts, bombing alert, go to basement, go to basement, go to basement,” he said.

A heart surgeon and hospital administrator, Demyanchuk video chats with his daughter, Polina, who lives in Sacramento, Calif., and his close friend and Madison resident, Gary Tsarovsky.

“To be a good doctor means to serve people, treat people in any conditions,” said Demyanchuk.

Vitaly Demyanchuk looks at a computer camera during a video chat.

Dr. Vitaly Demyanchuk, a hospital administrator and surgeon at the Kyiv Heart Institute, has kept in contact with family and friends in the midst of war. On March 2, he spoke with his daughter Polina and friend Gary Tsarovsky, who lives in Madison. (Credit: PBS Wisconsin)

Does he have weapons and ammunition?

“No, no, no, no, no, no,” Demyanchuk said. “Our hospital is absolutely demilitarization zone.”

The outside of the hospital is guarded by Ukrainian soldiers. Inside, around 300 people — patients, staff and their families — take refuge in the basement.

Our resources are limited,” he added.

The invasion took them by surprise.

“We thought that probably it’s just political games,” Demyanchuk said. “I didn’t understand what to do. What should I do? I was shocked, truly.”

Demyanchuk’s wife and other daughter fled Kyiv just hours before this March 2 conversation, to evacuate Ukraine as the bombings kept getting worse.

“Awful, awful, awful,” he said. “It’s catastrophic war — become more and more unpredictable, and more and more dangerous.

Gary Tsarovsky sits at a desk with crossed arms while facing a laptop during a video phone call.

Madison resident Gary Tsarovky is staying in touch with Dr. Vitaly Demyanchuk, a heart surgeon in Kyiv who is working to treat patients as the Ukrainian capital city is attacked by Russian military and police forces. (Credit: PBS Wisconsin)

But Demyanchuk has no plans to leave.

“First of all, I’m a doctor. Secondly, I’m an administrator. The captain should leave his ship last,” he said.

The politics of the past has prepared many Ukrainians to stay and fight.

“Please remember, 2004, 2014, so we are well prepared. We are well trained,” said Demyanchuk. “In current situation when Russia have a lot of missiles, ballistic missiles, so we can’t consider any place that’s in Europe safe, without reach.”

“Sorry, I’m at loss of words, honestly,” said Demyanchuk’s daughter Polina, who attended Madison West High School and is now an undergrad at Sacramento State University in California. Half a world away, she’s worried about her family.

“Just, you know, reassure them that it’s going to be okay, but I don’t know if I can even say that because I don’t know. I don’t know if everything’s going to be okay. I only have hope and I think hope has to die last. I always thought my dad was a hero. It’s heartbreaking,” said Polina in the conversation with her father Vitaly.

“Together we are strong,” he replied. “Please.”

“I know. I know. I know,” said Polina. “Ukraine is strong and they’re very united right now. They’re not going to give up easily”

Polina Demyanchuk looks away from a computer camera during a video chat.

Polina Demyanchuk, a graduate of Madison West High School and student at Sacramento State University in California, shares worries about the safety of her father Vitaly as he remains in Kyiv. (Credit: PBS Wisconsin)

“I think we’re all encouraged by the fact that the world is united with Ukraine and standing behind Ukraine,” added Tsarovsky during the conversation.

Vitaly Demyanchuk replied in Ukrainian.

“My dad is saying that he thinks that all of this, everything that’s happening in Ukraine, what Ukrainians are doing, it’s much bigger than just fighting for their lives,” explained Polina.

“The Ukrainians understood well that freedom is not free,” added Vitaly.

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