Ukrainian student returns home for the first time since Russian invasion


James Bartlett

Demonstrators rally in support of Ukraine outside of the MA statehouse Sunday.

Just seven months ago, Nika Chelnokova’s world turned upside down when she heard about the Russian invasion in her hometown of Kyiv, Ukraine. Since then, she has experienced first-hand what it is like to live in the midst of ongoing conflict.

Chelnokova, now a senior at Suffolk University, told The Journal about her initial reaction to the war back in April. 

Chelnokova’s mother is still living in Kyiv, while the rest of her family is staying in Vienna, Austria, they moved there at the beginning of May. Chelnokova’s first stop was Vienna to see most of her family, but after some time there she was ready to make the trip east to see her mom. 

“It was easy to get there[Ukraine]…but when I was coming back from Vienna, the trip took 20 hours because for eight hours we were standing at the border,” said Chelnokova.

Once she made it into the country, she was forced to get used to the new Ukraine. 

In case of any missile strikes, Ukraine implanted air-raid sirens. When the sirens sound it means the area could be under attack and everyone must find shelter. 

When Chelnokova witnessed one of her first alarms, she couldn’t believe how normal it was for everyone around her. 

“I didn’t know what to do, and for me it was the weirdest thing that people weren’t running away,” said Chelnokova. “It’s like a fire alarm going off in your house…but around the whole city.”

Despite the tragedy and heartbreak that this war has inflicted upon Ukraine, Chelnokova was still overjoyed to be in her home country, and said she felt a new sense of gratitude. 

“We don’t appreciate it, like, our home places. We don’t appreciate having an opportunity to stay there,” said Chelnokova. “For example, people from Massachusetts, they don’t really actually enjoy it, like, ‘oh my god it’s so nice to be here, I love the food here, I love the places, this is my city.’”

Poland is pitching in to help Ukrainians by opening refugee camps for people from the ages of eight to 18. Chelnokova stated they have a few hours of English lessons, sport activities, church services and even a few hours of therapy. 

Chelnokova was thrilled to have spent so much time with her family this past summer, but once she returned to Boston she started on her next project. 

She helped create the organization Boston Supports Ukraine at the beginning of the war, but she has her eye on an even bigger project for Ukraine. 

Friends of Ukraine is an organization that Chelnokova and a friend want to get started. Their idea is that it will be a monthly subscription service that donates to Ukraine. They are striving to reach one million dollars by the end of the year. 

“We all get so used to Netflix or Apple Music that every month we have [to make] this payment, we have the same idea,” said Chelnokova. 

The war may have fallen out of mainstream news, but Chelnokova was still scared witnessing the warfare first-hand while being home. Her brother tells her that the current level of military activity is just something to get used to, and everything is going to be okay.