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A year into Russian-Ukraine war, how one Cabot resident's family, friends are faring

A person holds a cell phone to their ear inside a blue and yellow train
Andrew Kravchenko
Associated Press
A woman uses a cellphone while traveling in a subway in Kyiv, Ukraine on Monday, March 13.

It’s been just over a year since Russia invaded Ukraine. In that time, roughly 19,000 civilian lives have been lost, and more than 8 million people have become refugees forced to leave their native land.

After a year of war, Vermont Public checked back in with Roman Kokodyniak, a Cabot resident who has family and friends in Ukraine. He’s a post-WWII immigrant to the U.S., arriving here in 1950 as a young boy.

More from Vermont Public: Vermonter Roman Kokodyniak reflects on his Ukranian-American roots as Russian invasion continues

Kokodyniak moved to Vermont in 1973 and worked in child advocacy in Chittenden County before moving to Cabot, and became a project director on environmental awareness for the International Science Council in Ukraine. He's also served as an interpreter for journalists visiting Ukraine, including former Vermont Public reporter John Dillon.

Vermont Public’s Mitch Wertlieb spoke with Roman Kokodyniak again, 12 months into the Russia-Ukraine war. Their conversation below has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

Mitch Wertlieb: You do have a lot of connections to Ukraine with some family, friends, former colleagues living there. When we spoke a year ago, you told us about your friend, Michael, who had chosen to stay in his high-rise apartment on the left bank in Kyiv. How is Michael doing? Is he still working at the parliament there?

Roman Kokodyniak: He's still working at the parliament. Shortly after you and I spoke last winter, the Vermont Legislature and the governor held an event where they announced $666,000 in aid to Ukraine — $1 per Vermonter. And on the line, during that presentation by the governor and legislators, Michael listened in and then shared the audio with parliament members.

So he's doing OK. I spoke to him a couple of months ago, when there was a lot of bombing of infrastructure facilities, energy facilities. And he was standing, he said, about an hour earlier, looking out the window towards the east, towards the electrical transformer that he saw completely destroyed in that moment. So it's been up and down. But he's been hanging in there and very positive and very, very supportive of his country and his president.

I have to ask about your family as well. Last time we spoke, you mentioned that you had family members in central and western Ukraine. They were helping refugees. How are they doing now? How are you able to communicate with them? 

Well, they're still helping people. They're doing fine. I spoke to them around the holidays in early January. One of the things that I'm aware of, in my conversations with family and colleagues, is that increasingly over this past year, everyone has had someone in their lives that they've either lost, or have had their homes destroyed, in some way damaged by this war.

For example, I spoke to my friend Victor, who's head of the environmental studies department at the oldest university in Kyiv, and he has a cousin in Kherson, south of the city. And his cousin has been arrested and told that he's being accused of collaborating with Ukrainians, giving them site locations and things like that. And if he doesn't cooperate with them, they will take his children, his two children, young kids to Russia. So they're threatening him. And it's a painful process for Victor, to hear that.

More from Vermont Public: S. Burlington teacher sharing experience in Ukraine to develop empathy in the classroom

And that's not some idle threat either. We've been hearing about this in the national and international news a lot, about Ukrainian children who are now just being put up for adoption in Russia, taken away from Ukraine, and who knows even if their family can get in touch with them. Is that right?

It is right. It is correct.

Do you think the resolve of the Ukrainian people, combined with international aid and everything else that's needed, will be enough to resist Putin, to resist the Russian aggression? 

I hope so. I'm torn on that topic, because I'm not a pacifist. But I certainly believe in demilitarization as much as possible. In this case, I think that there's a justified defense. This is an unprovoked invasion. The concern that I have is that I think that there will be some resolution, but I'm a little concerned with the increased militarization of Ukraine. We're talking about enormous amounts of military hardware. And I think, in terms of the parallels within our own country, in terms of guns and violence, and so I'm a little concerned with militarization of this country that has not needed it.

But don't they need it now, Roman? I mean, you know, President Zelenskyy is saying that they need the tanks, they need more guns, they need something to fight back against this much larger, much more powerful country with almost limitless military disposal.

I agree with you and I think they need it, and that's where I'm conflicted, because at the same time, what I saw happening in Ukraine was social change through peaceful protests and demonstration, and the strength of institutions. Military aid is important, but I think there's a need for moral support.

All of us in most cases, we have a little device in our hands. And that device is very powerful. I encourage Vermonters who have done a tremendous job so far — I am part of a vigil twice a week — and I'm impressed with the commitment and dedication of people who participate in that who and who pass us by.

More from Vermont Public: A vigil for Ukraine in Montpelier spotlights unfolding humanitarian crisis

Where's that vigil held, Roman? 

It's held on State Street in front of the federal building and post office in Montpelier. And people are welcome to join us.

The Ukrainians — and Belarusian and Russian opposition to this war — needs support. And I encourage people to get on their device and send a note of encouragement, recognize what they're doing, because it's not just a military effort. It's also an effort of strength and determination in character. There is an opposition that is being suppressed, and they need to hear that we encourage them, and we know that they're there.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
Karen is Vermont Public's Director of Radio Programming, serving Vermonters by overseeing the sound of Vermont Public's radio broadcast service. Karen has a long history with public radio, beginning in the early 2000's with the launch of the weekly classical music program, Sunday Bach. Karen's undergraduate degree is in Broadcast Journalism, and she has worked for public radio in Vermont and St. Louis, MO, in areas of production, programming, traffic, operations and news. She has produced many projects for broadcast over the years, including the Vermont Public Choral Hour, with host Linda Radtke, and interviews with local newsmakers with Morning Edition host Mitch Wertlieb. In 2021 Karen worked with co-producer Betty Smith on a national collaboration with StoryCorps One Small Step, connecting Vermonters one conversation at a time.
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