Source: Sherman Publications

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Former Ukrainian youth respond to Russian invasion

by David Fleet

March 05, 2014

From left, Max, Emily, Annie, Kristen and Lisa Jankowski in Atlas Township. Photo provided.
Atlas Twp.- For many, the recent escalation of conflicts in the Ukraine may seem a world away.

But for five Goodrich School District students, it's much closer to home.

Former Ukrainian citizens Kristen, 14, Annie,16, Lisa, 16, Emily, 19, and Max, 19—the children of township residents Vicki and Paul Jankowski, have watched closely the recent unrest in the Crimea region. There are still family ties to the Ukrainian area. The youth have lived in the United States since 2011.

The Jankowskis have five older children that range in age from 23 to 35. Three years ago, they were planning to retire when they went to a presentation at Five Points Community Church in Auburn Hills in which Jane Hyatt, who in 2000 helped establish the Ark Rehab Center for Street Children and Children at Risk in Kiev, Ukraine, was speaking.

Hyatt showed a video that made a dramatic impact on the Jankowskis as they watched a little girl speak in Russian about her dream to have a family and a little boy that wanted to be a carpenter when he grew up to build homes for every child.

"Fifty thousand children live in the sewers or streets of Ukraine. When the Soviet Union fell, Ukraine and its people became poor. Even now, some children are thrown away by parents, and some run away. These two American women were pulling the kids out of the sewers for an orphanage, the Ark. So, I ran up (to the speaker) to find out who these children were and how we could help them," said Vicki.

Only a few weeks later, she and Paul traveled to Ukraine in search of the children that had touched their hearts. They found three girls, teens and pre-teen, at the orphanage, now named Emily, Annie, and Kristen that they would fully adopt by October 2010. Another girl, then named Ivanna, and now known as Lisa, pleaded with them to take her, too. The Jankowskis retuned in 2011 and adopted Lisa and Max, also from the Ukraine.

Since they arrived in United States all the children have changed their names. Kristen, 14, was Masah; Annie,16, was Anastashia and Emily, 19 was Naydia. They are all biological sisters. Max, 19, was Maksim and his sister, Lisa, 16, was Ivanna.

The kids all spoke Russian and knew no English when they arrived. Max and Lisa speak both Ukrainian and Russian.

"We don't want them to lose the Russian—so they still converse," she said. "They have all been closely watching the news events in the Ukraine."

According to news reports, protests in Kiev originally erupted in November 2013 after President Viktor Yanukovych chose not to sign a political association and free trade agreement with the European Union at the summit of the Eastern Partnership at Vilnius, opting for closer ties with Russia, instead. The conflict escalated rapidly, leading to the downfall of the government of President Viktor Yanukovych and the setting up of a new government to replace it within a few days.Yanukovych fled to Russia, and is wanted in Ukraine for the killing of protesters. The conflict continued with the 2014 Crimean crisis. Russian forces invaded Ukraine and seized control of the Crimea region. For some eastern European countries, signs of Russian aggression in former Soviet satellite states stoked old fears about a Russia with imperialist ambitions. The United States has eyed a range of economic sanctions to isolate Russia and persuade it to withdraw.

Kristen was born in Kiev in 2000. She left the country when she was 11-years-old.

"I'm worried about the country and am sad—I still have sisters there," said Kristen. "I'm mad the United States did not care about the Ukraine people. The Russians have been trying to take over the Ukraine, the people don't want to go back there. They are fighting for their freedom right now. The president of the Ukraine— Yanukovych—was thrown out for siding with Russia. He had turned his own army on the people. We have seen all this on Facebook long before it came out in the news what Russia was trying to do. The United States has done nothing to help. No one is helping the Ukraine's fight for freedom."

Max was born in Kiev in 1994. He left the country in 2011 at 16-years-old.

"I'm mad at the American government for allowing this to happen to the Ukraine," said Max. "(Ukrainian President) Viktor Yanukovych made it worse for his people. Now they are so angry. I hope, too, that there will be no war between Russia and the United States over the Ukraine. That's what I worry about. Sometimes I hear from my friends about the people dying (in Ukraine)—way before Russia invaded the Ukraine. It's been going on long before the media reported it."

According to news reports, police advanced on thousands of protesters on Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) with guns, a water cannon and an armored personnel carrier.

"I've been to Maidan many times," said Max. "Before protests, Maidan was a very pretty place. Since the protests started, the place is on fire, people are dying there. I can't judge the Russian people for their government—many support the Ukraine and believe they should be free. I hope they will gain their independence from Russia, and chose the right leader. Be fair with the people. I still have family there. I'm angry at (U.S. President) Obama, he waited four or five months before doing anything. Since that time hundreds of people died."