New beginnings: PV student fled Ukraine after the start of the Russo-Ukrainian War

Sophomore+Tonia+Schryver+reflected+on+the+days+before+the+Russo-Ukrainian+War+began%2C+saying+the+president+of+Ukraine+declared+a+day+of+unity+when+the+possibility+of+a+Russian+attack+first+emerged.

Tonia Scgryver

Sophomore Tonia Schryver reflected on the days before the Russo-Ukrainian War began, saying the president of Ukraine declared a day of unity when the possibility of a Russian attack first emerged.

Allisa Pandit, Innovation Manager

Early February 21, sophomore Tonia Schryver witnessed unforeseen planes flying through the once bright Ukrainian sky. Following the planes, Ukrainians across the nation heard explosions and came to learn of the unthinkable: war. 

Prior to the first explosions, Schryver led a peaceful everyday life in Ukraine. Not only was she a full time student, but she also worked at two theaters. Life seemingly passed by per usual, until talk of a potential Russo-Ukrainian War took over the news.

Following the explosions, Schryver’s family took shelter as sirens blared every hour warning Ukrainians to take cover in basements and bunkers. In the coming days, the atmosphere of Ukraine had drastically changed for the worse. Schryver recalled the uniformed personnel occupying her once peaceful home in a matter of days. “Occupants don’t even know what they’re fighting for,” she said. She keeps Ukraine in her heart, but her mind is plagued with images of her damaged home, neighbors and friends. 

“There are some cities that are occupied and a lot of cities and towns are actually destroyed. There was also a city, Bucha, where the occupants just came and started to kill civilians. Small people [and] women, just to destroy Ukraine as a nation,” said Schryver. 

In hopes of escaping the violence, Schryver and her family, excluding her father, traveled 30 hours to Western Ukraine where they took shelter at a friend’s house for two weeks. As tensions between Russia and Ukraine grew, Schryver’s family crossed the border to Slovakia where they sought refuge among kind-hearted volunteers who sought to help the refugees in any way possible. The volunteers then led the family to a school where many Ukrainians sought refuge.

For the next four days, Schryver’s family fled to Germany where they stayed at another friend’s house for four days. While in an unfamiliar country, Schryver took COVID tests, booked flights to the United States and longed to see her father who was still in Ukraine.

On March 13, Schryver finally boarded her flight to Chicago where her family friends would eventually pick her up. Looking back at the series of traumatic events Schryver faced in the span of a few weeks, she said the psychological pressure of everything has made her memories a blur, but she hopes to spread awareness for what she remembers. 

Since coming to America, Schryver said she spent her first few weeks adjusting to the new culture. “It was pretty hard adjusting to the new school. Everything looks so different and just the fact that you’re somewhere [new] is scary. But, people have really helped because everyone is so nice. As I analyzed, there are a lot of extroverted people that are always ready to make friends here. If I need help to find some classes here, people are always ready to help,” she shared.

Schryver has quite literally integrated her Ukrainian heritage into the walls of PV. In an art class, Schryver thought it would be impactful to raise awareness for the violent war going on back at home. In a masking tape art wall project, Schryver recreated the view out her window in Ukraine. Depicting a flag, her artwork was created so students would be prompted to ask her about Ukraine and what they can do to help. Although all of her family managed to flee Ukraine, all she can think about are the people who are unable to leave. “Even if we aren’t close, I care about them,” she said, referring to fellow Ukrainian residents. 

Here at PV, Schryver was able to find two more foreign exchange students from Ukraine. Sharing the same background and language has created a sense of familiarity for the new students at PV. Looking forward, Schryver looks to spread awareness about her home country and hopes students will continue to ask her more questions about Ukraine. “I feel useless in this situation,” she said. “Any actions, any money support to Ukraine, any volunteering work is really important [sic].”

Click here for more information on local Ukrainian fundraisers.