Ukrainian On Nantucket Prays For Family Now Fleeing War As Refugees

Andrey Artemenko (Left) and his wife Olga with two of his three children (Prohor and Sofia) on the right.

There was nothing Andrey Artemenko could do from Nantucket when his home country of Ukraine was invaded by Russian forces but watch and pray. The feelings of fear, sadness, and anger were only exacerbated by the fact that his three children, ages 9, 11, and 12, and his wife were just three miles away from where some of the first bombs were dropped on Ukrainian soil.

“I was devastated. I was shocked. I was terrified. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t go to work and I was taking pills to try to calm myself down while drinking energy drinks to keep me up at night so I could be awake and stay in connection with my family,” said Artemenko, who has been living and working on Nantucket for the past two years as a carpenter

Artemenko’s wife Olga with Sofia and Prohor.

Artemenko grew up in Dnipro, Ukraine, where his family lived until the invasion. His wife’s name is Olga. He has two daughters – Sofia and Mariya – along with a son named Prohor. His family has since escaped the growing conflict by fleeing to Poland, where they have been safely residing since Thursday.

Artemenko’s children from left to right: Prohor, Mariya, Sofia.

Artemenko said his family would move from their apartment to their bomb shelter seven or eight times per day while they were in Ukraine during the first week of the invasion, with the blaring sound of sirens ringing in their ears almost every hour. His family traveled with two of Artemenko’s sisters, a family friend, and five other children, leaving the men behind who were staying back to fight in a war they never imagined would come to fruition.

“This was unthinkable maybe two weeks ago,” he said. “Lots of young men are suddenly going to fight a war that two weeks ago they never could have imagined would be happening. But people are standing in crowds and waiting in long lines to sign up to go to war against Russia and protect our land.”

“I am ashamed that I cannot now be with my loved ones in my country Ukraine, and defend my homeland. All I can do is ask (people) to help the warriors and patriots who are dying right now.  Please don’t be indifferent. My life will never be the same. My heart will ache to the last beat.”

The Ukrainian people are as united as ever, Artemenko said, despite the terrible circumstances and overwhelming firepower the Russians are bringing to bear on their smaller neighbor.

“There was a saying I heard from someone who said no one in the history of the Ukrainian people did so much for the unity of Ukraine as Putin has done because now, everyone is united against him,” Artemenko said. “As terrible as that sounds, nobody in the history of Ukraine did as much for our country’s unity than Putin because of the war. They are all united now because of this war we are now fighting against him.”

Artemenko also cited the leadership of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, saying he has played a significant role in the country’s resistance to Putin and the Russian military.

“What he did for the Ukrainian people is the main reason for what helped give people the confidence to fight and unite,” Artemenko said. “Before the war his support was not very high, maybe 40 percent. But now today it is about 95 or more percent. 98 percent of Ukrainians believe we will win this war. Nobody expected that (Zelensky) would go to war because he has no political experience. He was an actor and a comedian before being elected into office.

“To set the picture, we were invaded by a country much bigger than us, he has no political experience, he has no military experience, so of course nobody expects that he will actually go to war,” Artemenko continued. “Many Ukrainians expected that within the first hours of the invasion that he would either escape or sign the papers that say he and Ukraine have given up. I think Russia felt that also and believed he would just flee the country. But he did the opposite. He has stayed and fought. He went to war and put his life on the line and because he stayed and fought, it showed the Ukrainian people that they actually have a leader.”

Over 1.2 million people have already fled Ukraine seeking shelter in neighboring European countries. They have been forced to live their lives as refugees with an uncertain future. And that number doesn’t even include the people who are unable to get on a train or bus heading for Poland or another country.

While Artemenko feels much more relieved now that his family has escaped Ukraine for Poland, he said that journey was tense and tiresome for his family and others, who ended up taking a bus after waiting for 20 hours at the train station for an open train without any luck.

“That is a terrible journey because as these people move along there were bullets and rockets,” he said. “The Russians shoot at you. That wasn’t a joy ride at all for my family or any of the other refugees. Now from my city Dnipro to Poland, what was always a 12-hour journey is now a 60-hour journey because they needed to stop and wait, stop and wait because there was so much shelling on the road. They also weren’t able to sit down and had to stand for the entirety of the journey.”

Photo Taken At The Railway Station In Kharkov On Sunday. Photo Courtesy Of Andrey Artemenko.

Artemenko said these trains and buses have no water or food, leaving refugees starving and dehydrated by the time they reach Poland. Many of these Ukrainian people carry few or none of their belongings with them because of the abrupt exit from their country, the duration of the trip, and the lack of space on the buses and trains.

“It isn’t like they planned this trip,” he said. “The trip was so long and dangerous. They can only bring so much with them to Poland.”

Artemenko said while these conditions make for a tough journey, the Polish have stepped up to do everything they can to help alleviate the Ukrainians’ hardships.

“There are lots of volunteers in Poland and if the Ukrainian people don’t have money, Poland will give them shelter. They will give them food. They will give them water. They will give them all of the necessities and whatever they need to fit their needs and what they need to stay alive and be comfortable,” he said. “They offer them free lounging because there were lots of people who left with nothing and have nowhere to stay because they are refugees.”

Artemenko said he has been able to speak to his family on a regular basis since this war began, but is unsure of when he will see them again.

Artemenko Hopes To Obtain US Visas To Reunite His Family

“My family definitely needs some time to come back to their senses because they have experienced terrible, terrible trauma and a grueling journey out of Ukraine,” he said. “There is a lot of psychological trauma for the kids. They even have counselors in Poland organized by local volunteers to speak with the children and the refugees. They are doing everything they can to try to cheer them up. So they will take some time and then we will try to find out what to do next.”

Artemenko said he doesn’t believe NATO and the western countries have done enough to assist Ukraine. He said that while his country appreciates aid such as ammunition and weapons for the troops on the ground, it isn’t enough.

“Of course they didn’t do enough,” he said of NATO. “They are just watching from the outside, giving Ukrainians the guns, and saying good luck. A lot more needs to be done. The whole country demands a no-fly zone above Ukraine because as soon as the air is closed and the Russians don’t control the sky, it is a much more even fight. Right now not a single Russian military mission on the ground is successful. Not one, and we all are seeing it and they see it in Ukraine. Not one has been successful, but when they carry out missions from the sky everyone is in danger and that is where lots of people die and where Russia has an advantage.”

Artemenko said Russia has been violating ceasefires intended to allow innocent civilians to leave large cities, forcing refugees to hide under bridges and other structures. Photo Via The Associated Press.

Since Ukraine is not a NATO nation, the Russian attack did not trigger an automatic response from the coalition of nations.

But Artemenko believes that just because Ukraine doesn’t fall under the requisites for NATO to join the conflict, that doesn’t mean these countries shouldn’t be more involved given the catastrophic damage the Putin-led Russian military has inflicted on his homeland and its people.

Over 500 ballistic missiles have been launched at Ukraine as of Saturday. Artemenko pointed to the 16 children killed on March 3 and the war crimes that are being caught on cameras and circulated across the web. He warned that the war is worse than what people in the western side of the world are seeing or reading about in the news.

“We are going to see a huge, huge humanitarian crisis there and I think people in these western countries don’t realize how bad it is right now or how bad it is about to get,” he said. “There is no power there, they can’t communicate, there is no food, there is no water, there are no medicines or drugs that people need for their health. There is nothing for these people that they need in order to live and that crisis is likely getting worse as we speak.

“Children are dying of hunger right now and the other thing is that it is really cold there,” Artemenko continued. “It snows there. It isn’t summertime there right now. It is probably the same or around the same temperature as it is here (on Nantucket). All of these countries of power are just watching as people are dying, as kids are dying. Yes money is good but what good is the money if all of your infrastructure is destroyed or you are outmanned by a country much larger than Ukraine? Ukraine is very big. It is the largest country in Europe. But compared to Russia it is tiny and like Rhode Island in the United States.”

Over 70 of these ballistic missiles have been fired from Belarus, who has joined Russia in the conflict.

“Belarus is a Russian ally but in this long Ukrainian/Russia crisis they had always been neutral,” Artemenko said. “Before the war started the President of Belarus (Alexander Lukashenko) lied and said no Russian soldier will go through Belarus and attack Ukraine and that no Russian will hit Ukraine’s ground from our ground. But Russia has now used Belarus to hit us from two different directions.”

The Ukrainian resistance remains strong – performing far better than many had expected at the outset of the conflict – and has halted the Russian forces on numerous fronts.

“I am proud of my people. I am proud of my country. No matter how this war will end, Ukraine will not give up. We will not give in to Putin and we will be stronger,” Artemenko said.

*A special thank you to Andrey’s good friend Dmitry Kondratiev, a native of Russia, who took the time to serve as a translator for Andrey’s interview with the Current so Andrey could express his emotions and tell his story.*

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