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Ukrainian New Yorker Worries for Her Family’s Safety Back Home

Vironika Giacchi (right at Times Square protest) says she and her family weren’t surprised by the Russian invasion. “We have had a war for eight years. Russia started the war in Ukraine when they occupied Crimea” she says. (Photo courtesy of Vironika Giacchi)

‘It’s Terrible Because I Should Be There’

PROSPECT HEIGHTS — Vironika Giacchi isn’t getting much sleep these days. And who could blame her? Giacchi, a Ukrainian living on Staten Island, is desperately worried about her family and friends back home.

Giacchi, who has been living in New York for 12 years, is the manager of a jewelry department in a Manhattan store and loves her life in the U.S. However, ever since Russia invaded Ukraine, her thoughts are constantly with her parents, Larissa and Artur, and her family and friends who are trying to survive. 

Most of her relatives live in western Ukraine, but her parents reside in the capital city of Kyiv. She speaks to them every day. On Sunday night, she was talking to her mother when suddenly her mother calmly informed her she had to go because air raid sirens had sounded and the family had to retreat to a bomb shelter.

One of Giacchi’s closest friends gave birth to a boy in September. “She has a six-month-old boy and her boy is living in a fallout shelter,” she said sadly.

“They are stronger than me,” Giacchi said of her family and friends. 

Giacchi is heartbroken about what is happening in her native country and devastated that she can’t do more. She did take a Red Cross first aid class near her Staten Island home with the intent of returning to Ukraine to volunteer as a nurse’s aide. She realizes now that she will be unable to go there. 

On Feb. 24, the day the Russian invasion began, the government of Ukraine closed its air space to commercial flights. That same day, the U.S. State Department issued a Level 4 advisory urging people against traveling there.

“It’s terrible because I should be there. I should be there every day,” Giacchi said through tears.

Giacchi’s family is determined to follow the call of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and take up arms to fight the Russians — even if it means engaging in hand-to-hand combat. “She’s saying that we’re going to fight them until we die. We’re not going to give up on the freedom of our country,” Giacchi recalled her mother telling her.

At her family’s request, she has sent them money to donate to the Ukrainian military. “I send money to help the army with the medical supplies and with everything they need so they would buy in bulk. My family and friends don’t ask me for anything for themselves,” she said. 

“I know we are outnumbered and outgunned. But the only way that’s worse is to give up. You have to continue fighting,” she added.

On Feb. 26, as Ukrainian forces were repelling the Russian military in Kyiv, Giacchi was lending her voice to those of millions of people around the world in protest against Russian President Vladimir Putin by taking part in a demonstration in Times Square.

Giacchi first came to the U.S. to study English. She planned to stay in New York for only a year. But life intervened. She met her husband, got married, and settled here permanently.

These days, she struggles with her emotions as she watches the events unfold thousands of miles and seven time zones away. 

When asked what she would say to Putin if she had the chance to speak to him directly, she replied curtly, “I have nothing to say to him.”