Manchester Community College students celebrate Ukrainian culture

April 22—Students at Manchester Community College held a festival on Thursday to celebrate Ukrainian culture, raise funds for refugees and maintain awareness of the human tragedy in Ukraine.

Over Ukrainian food, community college students signed up for a fundraising walk, bought raffle tickets and t-shirts and listened to a Kyiv woman tell how she escaped with her three children in New Hampshire.

Nadia Nakonechny told her story to students with her sister, Olivia Babin, a Manchester Community College graduate who now lives in Pembroke, interpreting in English.

Babin said she called her sister early in the morning of February 24 to tell her the shelling had begun. At first, says Nakonechny, the family could not believe the war had started.

“We hoped it would be on a much smaller scale, and somewhere far away from us, not in the capital,” Nakonechny said through Dabin.

“The first two days I couldn’t process it because it was so shocking to everyone,” she said.

“For example, on the first day, my ears heard the sound of shelling and my brain still couldn’t understand how, how could this happen? A war? What is it? what it means ?”

The next day, Nakonechny said, she woke up before dawn to the sound of explosions. From the family’s apartment on the eighth floor, she saw the sky light up in red and orange.

“At that point, my husband and I decided to leave,” she said.

They packed up their three young children and headed to their parents’ house on the outskirts of town. They rushed to find shelter from the bombs, but soon decided the safest option was to leave the country.

Nakonechny and her family stayed in western Ukraine before departing through Moldova and then Romania, eventually flying to Boston on tourist visas the family had obtained to visit Babin in New Hampshire.

Nakonechny and her three children were allowed to leave Ukraine with her husband, despite the martial law requirement that men must stay to contribute to the war effort. The law provides exceptions for fathers of three or more children leaving with their family, so Nakonechny’s husband was able to travel with the family.

Babin is the family’s only relative in Western Europe or the United States, Nakonechny said, so it made sense for the family to go to her.

But at home, Babin and Nakonechny said their father and three brothers were serving – evacuating people from eastern Ukraine, delivering food and providing shelter to displaced people.

The sisters try to connect with their family in Ukraine every day. But they can’t help but worry.

“We worry and we pray,” Babin said.

Nakonechny said she was hesitant to leave – Ukraine was growing, prospering and becoming a better place to live. But when the war put an end to normal family life, she said there was no choice but to leave.

Now safe in New Hampshire for nearly two months, Nakonechny said her 2-year-old son has only just started sleeping through the night again after days of explosions and the family’s flight from their home.

“We appreciate the calm,” she said, and the peace found in nature here. But Nakonechny said she and her family yearn for peace in Ukraine and the home they know.

Babin and Nakonechny said they do everything they can to raise money, holding bake sales and other small fundraisers, anything to raise money to send home. Granite staters have been generous, she said, and local Ukrainian, Russian and Slavic communities have come together, she said.

Babin and Nakonechny said the festival and other events and fundraisers in New Hampshire are making a difference for Ukrainians in the United States and at home in Ukraine.

“Everything they do is valued,” Babin said.

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Helen D. Jessen