In visit to dad in Ukraine, Ridgefield man describes signs of war and resiliency of his home country

RIDGEFIELD — Curfews, roadblocks and air raids are now part of daily life in the city of Kyiv, Ukraine, ever since the country was invaded by Russia on Feb. 24.

Ridgefield resident Ross Voytovych recently returned from a week-long trip to Ukraine on an emergency visit to see his father, who has been diagnosed with cancer and was in the hospital.

Since his last trip to Ukraine last summer, he has noticed many changes. In Kyiv, while there is no actual fighting, the signs of war are everywhere, he said.

What first catches one’s eye, he added, are all the roadblocks.

“They are trying to avoid infiltrators who may want to come in,” said Voytovych, 43, who came to the U.S. from Ukraine in 2004, with his wife, Julia Voytovych, 41. The couple has a son named Theo, who is 8. Ross Voytovych was born in Lviv and moved to Kyiv at the age of 2. His wife was born in Kyiv.

“Since Ukrainians and Russians look alike, if someone is stopped, they are asked very specific questions. The checkpoints developed multiple quiz questions that only Ukrainians would know,” he said.

Voytovych said that during his stay, he was never stopped by those at the roadblock.

Another noticeable change from his prior visit is the city is under a tight curfew, he said.

“Curfew is pretty much you're not allowed to be outside of your house from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m,” he said.

Air raids alerts, which make an extremely loud sound, and began right after the war started, are still a part of everyday life in Kyiv.

When someone hears an air raid, they need to stop what they’re doing and find a shelter to go into as soon as they can, he said.

He added, however, that as a result of the sound going off so often, residents get used to them and tend to ignore them.

“You shouldn't be,” he said. "This is war. Every time the ballistic rocket or shells are fired ... you never know where it's gonna land. If it goes to your direction, they issue that air raid alert. So, everybody needs to drop what they do. If they travel, they have to leave their car and go into a shelter.”

During his stay, he said there was an average of four to five alerts within a 24-hour period.

"If the air raid alert is in the middle of the night and you're sleeping, you're supposed to wake up (and) go to the shelter," he said.

Both the Voytovychs however, said they understand why people tend to ignore the sirens after awhile.

"You have to live your life," Julia Voytovych said.

In terms of jobs, while the people of Kyiv have generally remained employed since the war began, their schedule has changed, he said.

"We have a hybrid schedule," he said. "Basically, you're more than welcome to come to the office but you also can work out of your home."

In regard to food shortages, he said in those areas where military action is taking place, there tends to be more shortages. In cities, like Kyiv, where there is no action, while businesses are functioning, "prices are through the roof,” he said. "So you may have everything in the store, but you may not have enough money to buy everything you need.”

During his stay, while he didn’t see violence taking place, he saw the consequences of violence when he traveled to several Russian occupied cities — Bucha, Irpin, and Hostomel.

In those cities, he saw buildings that had one part "destroyed" — but in other parts, there was life.

"You can see the apartment buildings where people are living, and then you see a black spot that kind of takes up like six apartments," he said.

While the buildings were initially evacuated after they were bombed, after awhile, their previous occupants came back to live in them, he said.

"Little kids are playing around. There were some people outside cooking something on a fire,” he said.

"They just keep on living their lives, that's what they do. People are resilient.”

Julia Voytovych said it's hard for anyone who has established a life somewhere to suddenly leave everything behind.

"My sister was staying here with us in Ridgefield since March, through last week, but it was five months without her husband and she has a little kid. We provided everything we could. While she could have stayed here, she really missed her husband so she left to go back to Ukraine,” she said, adding with few exceptions, no men from age 18 to 60 can leave Ukraine.

Ridgefield Responds

The Voytovychs are two of about two dozen people involved with Ridgefield Responds, a nonprofit organization established in town whose purpose is to support disasters locally and abroad.

Currently, the nonprofit is helping displaced people in Ukraine. To date, Ridgefield Responds has contributed more than $40,000 to help Ukraine, Ross Voytovych said.

Aside from monetary donations, they’re collecting food and medical aid, protection gear, clothing, and items to help those on the front line.

For a detailed list of what they need, and for more information about Ridgefield Responds, visit ridgefield responds.org.

Independence Day event

The town of Ridgefield will celebrate Ukraine’s Independence Day, which is Aug 24., in a special event on Aug. 27.

The event, which takes place all day, will begin with a walk from Ballard Park to Town Hall and includes a flag raising ceremony, speakers, and information on ways to help Ukraine.

Additionally, from Aug. 24 to Sept. 24, people are encouraged to wear the Ukrainian colors of yellow and blue.

For more information on the event, visit the town’s website and click on Aug. 27 on the calendar.

Ross Voytovych said he’s “infinitely grateful” to Ridgefield residents for their support and contributions to Ukraine.

Despite everything, he said he's thinking positive about the war's outcome.

“Ninety-eight percent of Ukrainians believe that Ukraine is gonna win the war,” he said.

He said the United States should continue to keep Ukraine top of mind.

“It's like, if you don't hear about Ukraine in the news for too long, you kind of get complacent .. but we still need America’s help to win this.”