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Ukrainians in Ohio grapple with a conflict 5000 miles away

A woman, Maryna Kohut, in a purple shirt and white cap poses with a vase of large sunflowers.
Courtesy of Doug Swift and Jack Shuler
The Reporting Project
The symbol of Ukraine is the sunflower. Maryna Kohut has an ample display in her doorway.

Maryna Kohut sat with a friend in a packed house waiting for the Lviv National Philharmonic Orchestra of Ukraine to start playing. They were about to play to an enthusiastic crowd in Swasey Chapel on the campus of Denison University.

Kohut grew up in Ukraine. She and her husband emigrated to the United States in 2004, and settled in Hebron, Ohio. They’re two of more than 42,000 Ukrainians living in Ohio. While the war there continues, they face daily updates on the conflict from nearly 5,000 miles away.

Kohut still has many family members in Ukraine. Her father was born in Russia, however, and served in the Soviet army. So she has many relatives in Russia, too. The news of the invasion shook her.

“How did I feel? I feel like my daddy beating up my mommy,” she said. “Like a little child who is crying, who just want[s] to sit down in the corner. I don’t want to see that: daddy beating up my mommy. That’s exactly how I feel when Russia entered Ukraine.”

Kohut’s mother, who lives in Russian-occupied Crimea, was visiting family near Kyiv at the time of the invasion. It was not safe for her to return to her home, so family members found her a house in Kyiv to take refuge. Soon, that house became unsafe as well.

“A bombing one day was so bad. Mom, who was handicapped, was alone in the big house,” Kohut said. “So they just grabbed her, dog, cat, another dog [who] was in the street, put in the car and was driving for two days.”

Kohut’s mother was evacuated to the Western part of Ukraine. One year later, she is back in Kyiv, but she still hasn't been able to return to Crimea.

A woman sits cross-legged beneath a large Ukrainian flag. The words "Pray for the Ukraine" is painted in yellow on the upper, blue portion of the flag. She is holding up both hands in the peace sign. Two girls flank her, pointing to the words above them.
Courtesy of Doug Swift and Jack Schuler
The Reporting Project
Kohut led a bible study for youth through the First Presbyterian Church in Granville. The purpose of the program was to highlight the history of Ukraine, to talk about the traditions and talents of the people who live there, and to raise money to help Ukrainian children who have lost their parents.

From her home in Ohio, Kohut has been helping in any way she can to support her country and fellow citizens, as well as her family. She raises money, gives talks, and uses her skills as a psychologist to tend to the traumas of war.

“So I was counseling and trying to listen and calm down my relatives back and forth during the daytime,” she said. “I was speaking, raising money, and then at a certain point, I started being really sick, I started being weak, I didn’t have energy. It just swallowed me, that war.”

On this night, though, she’s focused on music.

The program reads that Ukrainian composer Yevhen Stankovych’s composition is meant to evoke the feeling of living with war–the abrupt transitions between calm and startling outbursts.

But Kohut heard it differently.

“For me it was more magic, like Harry Potter, like a forest,” she said. “We all have our different perception[s], but for me it was magical.”

For an evening, the music–the connection to her Ukrainian heritage–restored her.