As the war in Ukraine continues, one woman in North Pole, Alaska prays for peace

Published: Apr. 1, 2022 at 4:17 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - In the small town of North Pole, Alaska located outside of Fairbanks, Anna Ovchinnikov lives with her husband and two small children.

Ovchinnikov and her husband are originally from Ukraine. For over a month they have watched as their home country has been besieged by war.

“Never in a million years did I think that my little hometown would be bombed,” she said.

Picture taken in Mariupol, Ukraine on a trip to visit friends and family.
Picture taken in Mariupol, Ukraine on a trip to visit friends and family.(Anna Ovchinnikov)

In 2002, her father watched a YouTube video on Alaska and decided that was where he would move the family.

“My dad always dreamed of living in the woods, and so I feel like we are in that area. There are woods everywhere,” Ovchinnikov continued.

Her family moved to Delta Junction, Alaska where there is a large Slavic Community. She said her family adjusted to living in Delta Junction because there was not a huge language barrier. Many people especially those from the “old country” use English as their second language.

“I feel like maybe there are people that move into the United States that are older that are from Ukraine, and they move into a community that is like Ukrainian and Russian people,” Ovchinnikov said. “They don’t necessarily have to learn the American language if they are old already, and it is already hard for them because the people they talk to all the time are Ukrainians and Russians, so I feel like it definitely helps to have that community of people.”

Ovchinnikov said that depending on where you live in Ukraine, you either speak Ukrainian, or you speak Russian.

“My parents and I grew up In Mariupol, and they speak Russian,” she explained. “I don’t even understand true Ukrainian even though I was born in Ukraine. I don’t speak Ukrainian, I speak Russian,”

Mariupol has undergone heavy shelling as residents flee and hide from the city, which has been reduced to ashes, leaving Ovchinnikov to wait to hear if her loved ones are okay. She said she tried to keep in communication with her loved ones as much as she could.

“Ever since the war started, I ‘face-timed’ my family when I could, and they were crying, of course,” she explained. “They were afraid of the unknown, like just like any of us would be. I could hear shots and bombings like outside of their window.”

For 22 days Ovchinnikov waited patiently until she received a message on Instagram from her cousin. She then was able to know the cousin was safe and in France.

Photo was taken from video after hearing from family after 22 days
Photo was taken from video after hearing from family after 22 days(Anna Ovchinnikov)

Ovchinnikov’s cousin explained described the time she was in hiding, which included taping up the windows because they were without heat, food, and electricity.

“Her immediate and extended family were all trying to stick together,” Ovchinnikov said. “They were all hiding in a room for 20 days, and they taped up the windows so no heat would escape because they didn’t have any heat. Then she told me that she was just holding her two little girls, not knowing when [or] if a bomb hits the house and that’s it.”

During that time, Ovchinnikov prayed. She said that was all she could do. She wanted to send money but knew that it would get lost or stolen. She admitted that she felt helpless during that time, but said support from her community helped uplift her spirits and gave her encouragement to stay positive.

Ovchinnikov couldn’t help but wonder about all those she cared about and had not heard from.

“I was just thinking of my personal friend that I have there. She has diabetes, and she has to take insulin shots,” Ovchinnikov said. “I was thinking ‘how she is going to get that?’ People that have health problems. Where do they go if they have to hide for so many days? I was thinking of my Aunt that is close to being 80, and she can barely like move around. I was just like imagining her like... you know, the unknown.”

Ovchinnikov’s family was able to escape the city, but like many others they were left with only what they could carry. “Everything is just left behind and you have you, your husband, and your kids, and you are starting over,” she said.

This is the case for millions of Ukrainians right now. Many start again from scratch. Ovchinnikov says she wonders what life would be like for those who wish to return. “Looking at it right now, I’m not sure if they can come back because there is nowhere to live.”

She said for her town of Mariupol, everyone would have to demolish everything and rebuild. The city has been 90% demolished by the war.

“I feel like this war is creating, or like the enemy is trying to use this war to create division among people that are one people, especially in families” Ovchinnikov said. “There are families that are Russian and Ukrainian. So as we pray about peace in Ukraine, we pray about peace in your heart too, and not let the enemy steal that peace.

She holds back tears sending a message to her family back home.

“Basically that we love them and we hope to hear from them very soon,” Ovchinnikov cries. “They are always welcome in our home of course if they have nowhere else to go and they don’t have a home anymore.”

Ovchinnikov says the ties between Russia and Ukraine are closely knitted together. Both countries share more than just a border.

“I feel like in all the nations there is like there is good and bad, good people and bad people. We can’t blame a specific nation for the actions of a few people, because there are a lot of innocent people that are hurting in both countries,” she explained.

Anna Ovchinnikov hopes for peace - in her homeland and in the hearts of all those affected. She says after you have lost everything, the peace in your heart is the hardest to get back.

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