The Ukrainian capitol of Kyiv, is 5,555 miles from the capitol of Wyoming. And yet, the actions taking place in that far-away country are striking close to home for a number of people who live here.
Casper resident Lisa McDonald has family ties to the European country. Her grandparents were born in Ukraine, captured by German soldiers in World War II and emigrated to Canada after the war.
“I grew up speaking Ukrainian,” McDonald told Cowboy State Daily. “I grew up involved in a lot of Ukrainian activities – Ukrainian church, Ukrainian dance, Ukrainian youth group.”
Although many of her close relatives have moved out of the country, McDonald said she keeps in touch regularly with extended family remaining in Ukraine.
“(My sons) and I went in 2019, and we spent three weeks in Ukraine and visited my family,” she said. “And so now with Facebook and social media, I’m friends with a bunch of family.”
For her, the developments unfolding in Ukraine are alarming. On Wednesday, Russian forces invaded, and casualties are mounting. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called for a state of emergency to be imposed across the country beginning at midnight Thursday.
“I do have a lot of friends and a little bit of family near Kyiv, near the capitol,” she said. “I think for the most part, they feel confident that the West will help them and it’s in the benefit for the rest of the world to help them, because if (Russian President Vladimir) Putin takes over Ukraine, I mean, that’s the highway to Europe.”
The country itself is a treasure trove for minerals, fossil fuels and agriculture. The second-largest country in Europe, Ukraine ranks first or second in the world for mineral reserves such as iron ore, uranium, manganese, and titanium. It is an important agricultural country, ranking in the top five globally for the production of sunflowers and sunflower oil, barley, corn, potatoes and rye. The world’s third-largest natural gas pipeline system also runs through Ukraine.
Ukrainians have been on the front lines of Russian aggression for eight years now, McDonald said, so residents have become used to living under threat of war. But the recent escalation is concerning to her loved ones there, McDonald said.
“This war has been going on since 2014,” she said. “They took Crimea, and since (Putin) started pushing his way in on the eastern side of Ukraine – it isn’t new news. It’s just that he’s amassed more (troops) to make a bigger deal out of it.”
McDonald said that her friends and family in Ukraine love their homeland and are ready to fight for it.
“The Russian (soldiers) are forced to fight,” she said. “But the Ukrainians fight because they want to fight. They don’t want to go back to the old Soviet system. They love their country, they love the fact that they’re becoming a democracy. They love all that stuff. They want to be more aligned with Europe. They do not want anything to do with Russia.”
McDonald added that for military families here in Wyoming, there is real concern.
“I work with a lady whose son is in the Navy, and he’s posted over there,” she said. “They’re waiting in the U.K. right now to get their orders, you know? And so she’s terrified, because Putin is a madman, he really truly is. He’s an egomaniac. He wants to be memorialized for putting the Soviet Union back on the map, and the West needs to stand up to this bully and take care of it sooner than later.”