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Ukrainian woman harbors mixed sentiments on anniversary of Russian invasion

By Tim Vandenack - | Feb 24, 2023

Tim Vandenack, Standard-Examiner

Zinaida Horetska, who came to Ogden from Ukraine under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Uniting for Ukraine program, is photographed Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023, at Skin It Tattoo, where she works. She came to the United States to get away from the violence of the war with Russia.

OGDEN — A year ago, Zinaida Horetska remembers getting roused from sleep by pounding on the door of the apartment she shared with her mother in the Ukrainian city of Novomoskovsk.

It was Feb. 24, 2022 — “the worst day in my life” — and a neighbor had come to inform them that the Russian invasion of Ukraine was on, that they’d better seek cover in the structure’s lower level. “They were like, ‘Where are the keys to the basement. There’s a war,'” Horetska said.

Exactly one year later, she’s in Ogden, here thanks to the federal Uniting for Ukraine program, working as a tattoo artist on Historic 25th Street. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security program launched last year in the wake of the Russian invasion to give refuge to Ukrainians fleeing the war.

Horetska, 30, arrived in the United States on July 21 last year, sponsored by Jack Knowlden, operator of Skin It Tattoo, where she now works. However, the continued fighting — a year old as of Friday and counting — still anguishes her, and while she’s physically safe, outside the war zone, she wonders how long the conflict will continue.

“I don’t understand the war. I hate Russia,” she said. “I don’t know how it can stop, when it can stop.”

Indeed, while she’s adjusting to the United States and far from the shelling, destruction and chaos of the war, the fighting — which she follows via news reports — takes a toll. Horetska said her hometown is “not too close, but not too far” from the violence.

“All the time I want to cry and it’s hard,” she said, seated at her work station at Skin It Tattoo.

She’s grateful to be in the United States, sends money home to family members and, Knowlden said, is pursuing U.S. residency. She’s regarded a “humanitarian parolee” under the Uniting for Ukraine program and has permission to live and work here for two years under its parameters.

But still …

“It’s complicated for me. Right now, I don’t want to go back. What can I do? I’m not military,” Horetska said.

Her family members in the Ukraine insist they’re glad she’s here, safe from the turmoil, but the mixed sentiments won’t go away. She’s leery about sharing good news with friends and family back in Ukraine lest it come across as flaunting. “All Ukraine people who left Ukraine, we feel guilty,” she said.

As Knowlden sees it, Horetska is doing a great job adjusting. She recently got an apartment in Ogden and she’s building up her client base at Skin It. But he understands her mixed emotions and guilt. “Everyday I feel the same way going about my daily business,” he said.

In a bid to do what he could to aid the Ukrainian cause, Knowlden traveled twice to Ukraine and Poland last year, when he met Horetska. He helped gather and distribute needed goods to Ukrainians, and the experience opened his eyes to how good it is in the United States compared to the uncertainty of Ukraine and other global hot spots.

Aden Batar, director of migration and refugee services for Catholic Community Services of Utah, based in Salt Lake City, estimates there are around 200 Ukrainian refugees in the state, a tiny fraction of the total around the world. The Uniting for Ukraine program here was designed to accommodate 100,000 fleeing Ukrainians while the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR, reports that nearly 8.1 million Ukrainian refugees are scattered across Europe.

The big issue for the refugees in Utah, Batar suspects, is dealing with the anguish of being far from their homes or losing loved ones to the fighting. But as the clock ticks on the Uniting for Ukraine program, those who want to stay are going to have to start considering their immigration options, perhaps filing for political asylum.

Groups like CCS provide help in such situations, but Batar said if the group is going to be effective in aiding those seeking help, it will need donations to cover the cost of lawyers and other legal experts. He doesn’t foresee an end to the fighting in Ukraine anytime soon, a window of opportunity to safely return.

“They’re going to need a lot of support,” he said.

Horetska, for her part, doesn’t report any lost loved ones to the violence. But there was more than enough uncertainty.

In the days after the Russian invasion began, she remembers always carrying her identity papers and money with her in case she had to flee at a moment’s notice. Civil defense bells sounded regularly.

Only weeks after the invasion began, she left for Poland with a friend who was hoping to get a U.S. tourist visa in the neighboring nation. Work as a tattoo artist in Ukraine had dried up and things weren’t much better in Poland, Horetska found.

“I was like, ‘Oh my God, what am I going to do?'” she said. She considered Greece, where a cousin lives, but job prospects there weren’t any more promising.

She met Knowlden during his second trip to Poland, and he ultimately sponsored her Uniting for Ukraine application to come to the United States. Knowlden also sponsored a Ukrainian woman and her son under the program. They came to the United States and visited the woman’s other son in Pennsylvania, but have since returned to their home country.

Horetska had never thought about coming to the United States before meeting Knowlden. Now, though, with the fighting continuing, she has a hard time contemplating a return to Ukraine, especially when she recalls those first violent days of the Russian invasion.

“It’s scary, so scary. You can feel it in your stomach every day,” she said.


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