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Exchange student gives insight on war against Ukraine

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"No one wants this war"

Daniil Rusanyuk is a Ukrainian exchange student at Livingston High School. PHOTO BY BRIAN BESCHDaniil Rusanyuk is a Ukrainian exchange student at Livingston High School. PHOTO BY BRIAN BESCHBy Brian Besch
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As the world watches the events in Russia and Ukraine unfold, a local student has his heart and mind in Kyiv while attending his final year of classes at Livingston High School. Daniil Rusanyuk, 17, is a Ukrainian exchange student from the capital city.

“I wanted to be an exchange student,” Daniil said of attending school in Polk County. “I applied for over two years. The first year I applied, but because of Covid, I wasn’t able to go. I applied for the next year, and it happened so fast. I got acceptance in a week. I got accepted and it said school started in a week. I needed to pack my bags and come here.”

Food, traditions and speech were some of the biggest adjustments made upon arrival. Daniil (pronounced Daniel) spent plenty of time learning English as a young child, starting in kindergarten. However, a British version of the language was taught. You may have heard that Texans sound a little different, and he mentioned something about an accent.

School has been a bit different in the States. Students in Ukraine attend classes for 11 grades instead of 12. In Kyiv, the classrooms are in groups of 30 students. Each group attends every class together for all 11 years.

Just like many kids his age, Daniil is into video games, and he was playing online when he first heard of the invasion.

“My friend called me; he’s still now in Kyiv,” Daniil said. “He told me, ‘I woke up and there was bombing.’ He said, ‘I do not understand what is happening.’ It was like 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. He saw something like a gas station blow up. I phoned my parents, and they also just woke up.”

Friends and family knew that Russian President Vladimir Putin had deployed troops at the border, but didn’t think much of it because there have been similar situations since 2014, when Crimea was invaded. Crimea was a destination spot for Daniil’s family, visiting the peninsula Russia now controls each summer.

“It is more in Western Ukraine that some people hated Russians. They called us bad words, but my grandma has a house there (in Crimea), so I used to go there every summer. This summer, I was there in Crimea. I have a lot of friends that are still texting me, so we were friends, and everything was fine. I even still play computer games (with them) and I try to tell them real situations that are happening, because in Russia, it is all propaganda. They will say, ‘We are saving Ukraine.’”

His description of the Kyiv he left is one of an ideal city, with activities that are limited by only the imagination.

“It is a very big city. We have two zoos, but two days ago, the zoo in the center of Kyiv was burned. I saw a video of fires. There are a lot of places and a lot of museums. The center of Kyiv is so beautiful. There are churches that are very important. This summer, a very beautiful glass bridge opened. No one even thought about war, so everyone was building. Our mayor of Kyiv, he was building this beautiful bridge that goes around so you can view all the Dnieper River.

“We have everything in Kyiv. We have a river where you can swim, we have boats and everything you can imagine. You don’t think, ‘Where can I go today?’ You just go out and you will see everything. Over the summer, me and my family decided to go to different sites to see Ukraine. Just next to Kyiv, there are mines, where people dig for resources. Then, they fill them with water when they have done everything. It is so beautiful, like a lake that is very deep. The water is so beautiful with trees around in the forest.”

His parents are from Lviv originally, but moved to Kyiv, where Daniil was born and raised. There are grandparents that still live in Lviv, where, for now, it is a bit more stable.

Daniil was understandably concerned with his parents in Kyiv. Extremely loud gunfire and bombing could be heard from inside their home. At 54 years of age, it is mandatory that his father remains in the country.

“My dad said that he is already too old to go into the Army, because it would be hard for him. He said, ‘I will help how I can.’ He is a builder. He is working with a building company, so he is organizing a fund where he collects money for people who have lost shelter and their houses in the bombing. My dad can’t get out of Ukraine, because there are restrictions if you are from 18-60, you can’t get out of Ukraine.”

In contact with someone every hour, Daniil checks on family and friends. There have been a few stressful moments, like when he couldn’t contact a cousin for a day. She was in the process of escaping Kyiv to reach family in Lviv. On the way, massive traffic delays forced her to sleep two nights in a bunker.

When asked if he believes enough has been done to help Ukraine, Daniil felt focus should be placed on the one responsible for the hardships his country faces.

“It tries to do enough, with all the sanctions on Russia, but it actually doesn’t affect Putin. Its effect is on Russia’s economy, but Putin as dictator, it doesn’t really affect him, so he just continues. Nothing will stop him.”

He said friends, frustrated with waiting for assistance, have joked that NATO is an acronym for No Action, Talk Only.

His godmother had left Kiev, but a camera captured Russian units firing at her house. After the Russians attacked and seized a nuclear power plant, Daniil’s parents decided Friday morning that the city was too dangerous. They left in a vehicle, which will take days with traffic and some of the roads destroyed by the war. The car will serve as both transportation and a bed until they reach Lviv.

Daniil has another grandmother who lives in Italy and the family has decided that if all connections are lost, that is where everyone will meet.

He planned to take part in a protest of the war occurring in Houston over the weekend.

“Neither Russians nor Ukrainians want this war. Russian troops and armies that are attacking us are surrendering, and Ukrainians give them food and hospitals. Our hospitals are full of Russian troops. No one wants this war. Ukraine needs help right now. I want more people to know about what is happening in Ukraine. I want more people to go to this protest, for example. Some help would be good.”

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