Vidalia Couple with Ties to Ukraine Share Concerns
Mike and Missy Yenatsky may live in Vidalia now, but the couple has strong Ukranian roots: Mike was born in Ukraine, and met his wife, Missy, an American, there during a mission trip she took in her youth. The couple kept in touch, and upon Mike’s move to the U.S., they married and ultimately settled in Vidalia because of his job at Plant Hatch in Baxley. Yet, the recent conflict overseas has left the Yenatskys worried about their family back home. The couple discussed this situation with the Kiwanis Club of Vidalia on April 12 to notify the public of the issues which Ukrainians are facing and seek support. According to Mike, the conflict in Ukraine is the result of Russian disapproval of Ukraine’s interest in joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which has been expanding toward Russia for several years. He said that the country was already in a fractured state because of civil war, which had been going on for 8 years. The conflict was over the divide of Ukrainians seeking individual sovereignty (Western Ukraine) and those who wish to maintain Russian roots (Eastern Ukraine); thus, when Russia began warring with Ukraine, all conflicts reached peak escalation.
All of Mike’s family except his mother and sister, who currently live in the U.S., remain in Ukraine, and his father lives along the divide of Russian and Ukranian control. “My father actually lives a few hundred yards away from the border,” Mike explained. “Sometimes, when we talk to him on the phone, I hear explosions in the background. He has a tall pine tree in his front yard, and the top was cut off by some sort of projectiles. He is one of the few people that have not evacuated.”
Mike continued to share that his hometown, which had around 50,000 people when he lived there, is now down to less than 10,000 people after evacuations.
Letter from Ukraine
Yenatsky’s cousin, Sergey, lives in Mariupol, which has been at the forefront of warfare. “Mariupol has been in the news lately — that’s where some of the most intense fighting is happening,” he told attendees. “Russia wants Mariupol because it creates a land bridge from Russia to Crimea, which is now also Russian — it’s the link between the two.”
He informed the audience that Mariupol is also a port city, which makes it a strategic target for Russian control. Yenatsky’s wife read a letter from Sergey to explain the difficult times which Ukrainians are currently experiencing. The letter featured depictions of escaping Mariupol, driving through minefields, and searching for loved ones.
“I’m afraid to make an incorrect move so that in the future I can blame myself for not doing what I could’ve done, and vice versa,” she read. The letter detailed Sergey’s decision to move his family to Mariupol in 2014, after seeing the negative effects of living near constant artillery fire from the civil war on his daughter, Anya. Sergey shared that since moving, Anya had thrived. She is on track to receive her diploma this year and had met the love of her life during their time in Mariupol.
“[The war] has left us without anything — our belongings, our home — and separated from our family,” Sergey wrote. “Finally, we were able to escape Mariupol on March 30. Before leaving, we constantly tried to find Anya’s boyfriend, Daniel. He was living in a high-rise apartment in the center of the city. He lived with and cared for his sick grandmother, who could not walk. Last time we had contact with him was on the phone on March 6. Since that time, the area where they lived was the center of a heated battle.”
He continued, “We already know that [Daniel’s] house burned down. We tried to go there to determine if he was alive, and if he is, to help him and his grandmother. The occupants would not let us go there because of ongoing fighting in that area. We found Daniel’s parents, who live not too far from Mariupol; however, they have not heard from them. So far, all the quests to finding Daniel or any information have not been fruitful.”
Sergey said that Anya perseveres in her search for Daniel through social media and all available outlets.
He also stated that he was determined to get his parents out of the Ukranian war zone, but currently could not go to their city because of his children’s refusal to let him go alone. “One way or another, I must get them out,” Sergey wrote. “I’m not going to leave them alone until they are safe.”
According to Sergey, he barely escaped capture when leaving Mariupol, because the Russian Army and Separatists detained him and wanted to arrest him because of his status as a retired law enforcement officer. “With God’s help, I managed to get out of that situation,” he explained. “Then, I took advantage of a greedy person working at one of the Russian Army and Separatist checkpoints, and we were able to get out.”
He added, “At this point, I am not ready to take my girls to a place that we may not be able to leave from if something happens. That was the case in Mariupol, when both bridges near our house were blown up, cutting us off from evacuation routes. I also don’t have any desire to drive through a minefield again while under artillery fire. I don’t want to push my luck with another Russian Army and Separatist checkpoint, either.”
“After we managed to make it through the minefield, my girls saw the Ukrainian military and police, they jumped out of the car, got on their knees, and cried and thanked God that He helped us make it out alive,” Sergey concluded. “Overall, that’s our situation.”
Missy Yenatsky informed the Kiwanis Club that her mother-in-law was coordinating with several contacts overseas to provide refugees with needed supplies. In response to this information, the Kiwanis Board of Directors voted to donate $500 to this Ukranian Relief Charity, and challenged all members to match that donation.