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Former Ohio exchange student shares his story of evacuation and resistance in Ukraine

 Roman Vydro with host parents David and Diane Kvasnicka at Niagara Falls in 2010.
David Kvasnicka
/
Courtesy
Roman Vydro with host parents David and Diane Kvasnicka at Niagara Falls in 2010.

When Ukrainian Roman Vydro was in high school, he spent a year in Northeast Ohio as an exchange student in Westlake. Now this 27-year-old engineer is trying to help his country defend itself from Russian forces.

He recently evacuated from his home in Kharkiv and has taken safe haven with friends in a town near the Romanian border. Vydro spoke to Ideastream Public Media’s Jenny Hamel and says he’s trying to get as much information to the public as possible about conditions in Ukraine.

You decided to evacuate from Kharkiv, the town you live in, after Russian troops started their invasion of Ukraine. 

Everyone who left the city, at first feels an enormous amount of guilt. And that's something I also went through, especially in the first days, because, you know, there are people fighting. I mean, literally fighting, and you're just driving. There is nothing you can do to help. You just need to drive. And that was emotionally difficult.

You know, I see my city being destroyed right now. All the places that, you know, the place where I had my first kiss, the place where I used to get coffee, the place where I used to go to school, is being literally destroyed. So right now, I'm surrounded by extremely angry and courageous people who are doing the best they can to overcome this aggression and show that Ukraine can resist.

Roman Vydro
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I have set up, let's say, an informational artillery project where I'm collecting a database of people, Ukrainians from all over the country, under different circumstances - some in bomb shelters, some volunteering and cooking food for their army, some mixing Molotov cocktails. Some are, you know, gathering some humanitarian aid. So, I'm gathering a database of these people and making sure that the stories are heard.

I just saw a video of a treasured building in the public square of Kharkiv being bombed. And it was shocking and horrific. Do you think it's important that the world see exactly what's happening to Ukraine right now? 

I feel like this is the second most important thing after actual military support that could have happened because Russian propaganda is also working really hard to shape this image. They don't even use the word war. They say it's some peace-building operation or something.

And yeah, so this main square, the explosion that you've seen, I feel like it's quite symbolic because this square is called the Square of Freedom. (Vydro refers to it by it’s Ukrainian name), it's called. And I see a lot of symbolism in this, because eight years ago, during the revolution of dignity, my nation has made a choice for freedom, and we paid a terrible price back then for that choice. And right now, they are making sure and doing all they could so that we could change our minds.

You spent a year in Cleveland, spent your junior year at Westlake High as an exchange student. What would you say to the people of Cleveland, home to a huge Ukrainian community? What would you say to the people of Ohio? What would you want them to know?

If you could reach out to your political representatives, write to your senator, write to your president. Demand more sanctions. They seem to be working. Demand more military support. Demand embargo on Russian oil and Russian gas. Russia has to be canceled right now. Otherwise, we're going to be paying a way more terrible price.

And also, if there is a way for you to donate, there are organizations that work with protection gear for the soldiers. There are organizations that work with humanitarian aid because we are in need of resources. We might end up on the verge of humanitarian catastrophe here in the center of Europe. And most importantly, please share the word. If some of your neighbors, if some of your friends or extended family do not know of the real crimes that Russia is making to my country, make sure to show them the videos and make sure to show them these interviews of first eye witnesses. Make sure they also take some action.
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