Ukrainians in Routt County worry about friends, family amid conflict with Russia |

Ukrainians in Routt County worry about friends, family amid conflict with Russia

Two local women say everyday citizens have little control compared to powerful oligarchs

One Routt County resident was in disbelief when her brother called Wednesday evening, Feb. 23, from Kharkov, the second largest city in Ukraine.

“OK, I need to let you know Russia officially attacked Ukraine,” he told her, warning his sister that communication and internet services could be interrupted.

“I cannot believe this is really happening in the 21st century,” Viktoriia said the next day during a dinner break while working at a store in downtown Steamboat Springs. “I’m trying to understand that it’s really real.”

Viktoriia and Routt County resident Nadia Kaiser both were born and lived most of their lives in Ukraine. They are unsure what will happen next, but they believe the consequences will be grave. The two women do not think Russian President Vladimir Putin will back down. Viktoriia asked that her last name not be published out of fear for her family’s safety.

“It is a very serious situation,” Kaiser said.

The women find it hard to believe that people who were once like an extended family as part of the former Soviet Union could be at such great odds. They say the region is interconnected through language, families and culture.

“I cannot believe that what is happening can turn us against each other because we are all like one big family,” said Viktoriia, who moved to the U.S. about five years ago. “We all speak Russian. Everyone is still like, ‘Russia is not going to do this.’”

Kaiser, 50, is the owner of Sew What in downtown Steamboat. She spoke with her friends Thursday morning in southern Ukraine and they told her they do not want to leave their apartments.

“They worry about what will be next with the country,” said Kaiser, who moved to the U.S. seven years ago. “People don’t understand and they are frustrated because of the confusion.”

Although the women did not agree on all of the key issues leading to the conflict, both are worried. They agree the ordinary citizens of Ukraine and Russian have little control or ability to promote change or make a difference. They say many of the issues stem from the oligarchs, or wealthy business leaders with political influence.

“Probably, it’s not about simple people; it’s about fights between oligarchs. It’s crazy,” said Kaiser, who earned a degree in economics in Ukraine and worked in accounting systems and customs. “Oligarchs are like spiders right now with intertwining businesses.”

The women speak Russian, Ukrainian and English, and both spend long hours at work in Steamboat. Mostly, they are worried about their friends and family in the Ukraine, more so for those who live in larger cities. They hope their families can find bomb shelters or protected areas like subway stations when necessary.

Viktoriia said she encouraged her family members to gather important documents and cash and have a to-go bag ready. By Friday morning, Feb. 25, her brother had sent a photo of the basement where the family is taking shelter.

The local Ukrainian immigrants were not hopeful this week.

“I think the U.S. cannot help with their problems because it will be war. All the world will be in a serious problem,” Kaiser said.

Viktoriia believes NATO and all other powerful countries must act together to support Ukraine, which is a little smaller in size than Texas.

“If all the countries will unite together and turn against Russia, this is the only one way to stop this. The reality is really scary,” Viktoriia said. “We cannot let one country do whatever they want.”

Family members in Kharkov, Ukraine, sent this photo today to a Routt County immigrant showing the dingy basement where the family is using today as a bomb shelter. / Courtesy photo

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