By Diane Averill
There is a quiet confidence about HP resident Daria Loshak as she calmly recounts the displacement and the injuries; the days and nights sheltering in a root cellar; the constant struggle for existence that her family members back home in Ukraine have experienced during the past five months of Russian military aggression.
She last saw her family when she visited in January.
“We did not believe it would happen,” Daria said of the invasion that came with the dawn of Feb. 24, 2022.
At the time, Daria’s father, Yuriy Loshak, a general in the Ukrainian navy, was stationed in Crimea, where the family had lived for 20 years. While he evacuated aboard a ship going north to Mariupol across the Sea of Asov, Daria’s mother made her escape westward over land, having had just four hours to assemble the few belongings that she would take with her. As Yuriy’s ship neared port, it hit a mine; his resulting injuries required 19 surgeries, after which he went right back into uniform.
Together with Daria’s brother, a commercial seaman sidelined by the war, her parents relocated to Kyiv. There, her mother does administrative work while her brother does aid work for a volunteer organization called SUVIATO, filling the constant and too-often sudden need of medical equipment, food and supplies for defense forces and volunteer medical personnel who have no time to wait for the bureaucratic processing of large, international aid funds.
Last March, Yuriy, dressed in civilian clothes, drove to a Kyiv suburb to retrieve a friend and his three children from an area of heavy attack. On the road, a Russian tank fired on the car. As the five occupants exited the burning vehicle, a Russian sniper opened up on them, wounding two of the children and killing their father. Once again, Daria’s father underwent surgery, this time to remove shrapnel from his eyes. After two weeks, with his vision restored but metal shards still lodged in his ears, he refused further treatment and went back to work.
Daria’s phone is filled with photographs of devastation, including the rubble that was her alma mater, the National University in Kharkiv; but there are also plenty of smiling faces, both civilian and military, gathered around an ambulance or a site of aid being distributed. In her grandparents’ town to the northwest of Kyiv, during a period of heavy shelling, neighbors did their grocery-shopping for them for the two months that they dared not venture past their own front yard.
“This situation shows how united people can be,” said Daria. Daria herself shows it, too.
Two years ago, she and her husband, Anton Ulianenkov, brought their then-four-year-old daughter, Varvara, to live in Highland Park on the second floor of a house on N. Euclid Avenue. Daria soon realized that the first floor apartment was occupied by an elderly man with no family and no visitors. She began knocking on his door with offerings of food. He was grumpy, she said, but she didn’t let it bother her. One day, he didn’t answer the door. Unable to shake the feeling that something was wrong, she called the police. The neighbor was found in critical condition, rushed to the hospital and stabilized. Not strong enough to return home on his own, he now lives in a nursing home, where Daria visits him regularly, still bringing food.
Their green cards are good until 2027, so Daria, a pre-school teacher, and Anton, an IT program developer, have time to decide whether they will stay in the US or return to Ukraine. Whether or not they will remain in the neighborhood, as they hope to do, is a more immediate question; the house where they live will be sold and they must relocate in October. By the time she learns of an apartment for rent in Highland Park, Daria said, it’s always already taken.
In the meantime, and as long as necessary, Daria will continue her efforts to help her countrymen by spreading awareness of SUVIATO and encouraging others to write letters of support to Ukrainian military personnel.
Once quick to tears and worry, Daria has embraced the same determined optimism that her family has shown her, and that the Ukrainian people have shown to the world.
“They always say, ‘Don’t worry, we’re fine,’” Daria said. They phone her every day to reassure her.
“I have them trained,” she added with a smile.
Daria Loshak welcomes letters to Ukrainian soldiers via her own email address, firstname.lastname@example.org. Contributions to SUVIATO can be made through PayPal to email@example.com. The organization has a presence on Facebook.
In anticipation of the arrival of Ukrainian refugees in Pittsburgh, local nonprofit Hello Neighbor will host a virtual community update on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 12:00-12:30 p.m. To register, visit helloneighbor.io.