Anna Sidorenko, junior psychology major from Lewisville, Texas, is half Ukrainian. Her father is from Ukraine and spent the first 25 years of his life there.
“Ever since everything happened over there, I’ve been thinking about it. Growing up, I never said I was Ukrainian, I always said I was Russian… My dad is a quarter Russian, he grew up speaking the language because [Ukraine was a part of] the Soviet Union.
“It sounded cooler, and no one knew where Ukraine was. [Now,] in college, I say I’m Ukrainian first because people actually know what Ukraine is. Professors would ask me when the origin of my last name is.”
Sidorenko’s father obtained his masters in mathematics and had already worked in the defense industry before he came to find work in the U.S. He moved to America after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
“American Airlines needed computer programmers,” said Sidorenko. “That’s how my parents met, my mom was an intern there.”
Her mother is from Tennessee and is a UD alumna, which Sidorenko cites as one of the reasons she chose UD.
Despite never learning the language, Sidorenko grew up loving Ukrainian culture. Her babushka, her father’s mother, lived in Ukraine but would come visit their family during the summer months. Sidorenko loved experiencing authentic Ukrainian dishes such as varenyky, boiled dumplings stuffed with filling, and borscht, a red beetroot soup common across Eastern Europe but is Ukrainian in origin.
“My babushka always made it, and my mom makes it now. She has her own recipe and everything.”
Sidorenko fondly recalled how her babushka would make a delicious cabbage dish but only every other Thursday, because it takes a long time to make.
Before her freshman year of college, Sidorenko and her parents visited Ukraine to see family and friends as well as explore cities such as Kyiv and Poltava.
Her favorite part of the trip was Kyiv because it was metropolitan, yet old and historical.
“I love visiting cathedrals, we visited so many while we were in Ukraine,” she said. Her favorites were the St. Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv and St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery, a functioning monastery on the edge of a bluff northeast of St. Sophia’s.
St. Michael’s is an intensely historical and significant site. It was demolished by Soviet authorities in the 1930’s and rebuilt in 1999 after Ukrainian independence was declared in ‘91.
“It’s a place of refuge,” Sidorenko explained. She recounted the protests and shooting in 2013, which occured when the then-Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich rejected a deal with the European Union in favor of strengthening ties with Russia.
After being a safe haven and field hospital for the protestors, St. Michael’s became a resting place for the dozens of people shot by police in the center of the capital as an effort to end the anti-government rallies.
Sidorenko saw other historical aspects of Ukraine such as Soviet remnants and artifacts from the Cold War, as well as her family’s cemetery plot. She recalled taking a train from Kyiv to Poltava and seeing a vast field of sunflowers against a stunning blue sky.
“I’m not sure if that’s the official reason, but people there say that’s why the flag is the way it is. Sunflowers are their national flower.”
During our interview, Sidorenko sported a blue and yellow bracelet as well as a tumbler in the same color scheme. Both are intentional displays of pride and support for her country.
“I think a lot of people didn’t think this would actually happen,” she said in reference to the current turbulence from Russia’s invasion. “They didn’t know how bad it was going to be.”
After seeing the news of the invasion, she said, “We all cried.”
“It’s not happening to me, it’s happening to my people. I’ve been really sad about it, especially for my dad.”
Sidorenko has several family members and friends still living in Ukraine. Her father’s cousin and her aunt live in Kyiv, which was the first area to be invaded. These family members are in their eighties so her family has been very concerned, especially for their psychological state.
The younger citizens, Sidorenko explained, are able to fight back and protest by sitting in front of tanks and making molotov cocktails. But her family can’t do that because they’re so much older. They just have to sit in their homes and hope that it will be safe soon.
She described it as being like the 2020 lockdowns, since no one can leave their house, but so much worse.
Her father, she said, calls his mom every day. Sidorenko has observed her father’s strength and realized that it is tied to the overall stoicism and strength of the Ukrainian people.
“They’re all proud of where they came from,” she said.