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Ukrainians in the Triangle shed tears and find ways to support their families, friends back home

 Krystyna Dubroushchenko of Ukraine, is a a professional dance instructor at Fred Astaire Dance Studios in Durham, NC. She came to North Carolina to teach in 2015, after an earlier Ukraine-Russia conflict over Crimea.
Leoneda Inge
Krystyna Dubroushchenko of Ukraine, is a a professional dance instructor at Fred Astaire Dance Studios in Durham, NC. She came to North Carolina to teach in 2015, after an earlier Ukraine-Russia conflict over Crimea.

Ukrainians across the Triangle are rallying together to support friends and families in their homeland.

One such Ukrainian is Lyana Watson. She moved to the United States when she was 16. Watson now lives in Apex, but her whole family is still in Ukraine.

"My mom and my sister are out of the country now," Watson said. "My uncle, my aunt, my cousin and her family and my grandma- they all fled last week. They are staying a little bit west [of Kyiv] in a village."

She said her cousin's son and husband may soon be forced to join the Ukrainian military to fight against Russian forces.

Over the last week, Watson has felt scared and angry. She still feels that way, but she also feels resolve to do her part.

"It was definitely around Saturday when we went to the rally in Raleigh [and] when I saw all the other people supporting Ukraine," Watson said. "I cried for half of the time, but the other half, I decided [I've] got to be doing something."

Watson and a Facebook group called Ukrainians in the Carolinas have been gathering medical and military supplies to send to Ukraine.

She expressed gratitude for the support her home country is receiving.

"The world [supporting] us is a major boost to our morale [and] to the fact... that we stand for the truth," Watson said. "We are freedom and peace loving people, and that gives us so much strength and so much faith in the fact that we will win."

She said anyone who wants to help can donate to reliable non-profit organizations, including Revived Soldiers Ukraine and United Help Ukraine.

For a community of Ukrainians in Durham, dancing keeps them going

When you walk into the Fred Astaire Dance Studios in Durham, the lights are bright and music is playing. You can see the dance floor as soon as you enter. The instructors are moving gracefully about, guiding their students.

But their minds and hearts are back in Ukraine.

“It’s better to dance out there than to look at the news, because it’s hell in there,” said Krystyna Dubroushchenko, one of a dozen Ukrainian professional dance instructors at the studios.

Dubroushchenko began to tear up while recalling what she has seen so far on the news about the Russian invasion of her country. Dubroushchenko says they check the news every hour, worried about friends and family who did not leave.

“Ukrainian people, they are very, I don’t want to say stubborn. They are free people, right. They don’t want to leave their home country,” said Dubroushchenko. “Dancing is what keeps me (from) thinking of it.”

Dubroushchenko left her home in eastern Ukraine in 2015. It wasn’t long after fighting began following the Russian annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. She and her husband left for the United Arab Emirates and then to the United States, settling and teaching dance in Durham. The local owner of the Fred Astaire Dance Studios, Yuriy Simakov, is also Ukrainian.

Vitalii Starikov, Dubroushchenko’s husband, says their immediate families remain in Ukraine.

“So far so good. All our days start with calls to Ukraine, to our families, our friends to check on them to see if they are alright,” said Starikov. “We are trying to hold on, altogether.”

A fundraiser has been held at the dance studios to help support Ukrainian ballroom dance champion Ruslan Golovashchenko. He was teaching in the U.S., and in Durham, when the war started. He is trying to evacuate his wife and two daughters out of Kyiv.

“There’s not much we can do, which is upsetting,” said Dubroushchenko.

Copyright 2022 North Carolina Public Radio. To see more, visit North Carolina Public Radio.

Celeste Gracia was born and raised in deep south Texas. She’s always loved to read and write, so when she discovered journalism in high school, she knew it was for her. She graduated from the University of North Texas. She previously interned at CBS News Radio in New York and Morning Edition in Washington D.C. She constantly craves cookies & creme ice cream and enjoys singing along to Broadway musicals.
Leoneda Inge is WUNC’s race and southern culture reporter, the first public radio journalist in the South to hold such a position. She explores modern and historical constructs to tell stories of poverty and wealth, health and food culture, education and racial identity. Leoneda is also co-host of the podcast Tested, allowing for even more in-depth storytelling on those topics.