‘My Dream Is to Survive,’ Says Scholar in Lviv

A Fulbright scholar reports from Lviv, where she lives in western Ukraine, “Before the war I had many dreams. … Now my dream is to survive.”

By Ed Langlois, Catholic News Service

Early Feb. 24, Mariya Fedyna heard the dull thud of Russian bombs hitting military bases not far from her home in Lviv, western Ukraine’s major city. It’s been like a bad dream ever since.

Fedyna, a linguist and professor at the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, spent nine months in Portland during the pandemic, using a Fulbright award to study at Portland State University. During her time in Oregon, she attended Sunday Mass at St. Anthony of Padua Church and dropped in to pray and weep because coronavirus seemed like the biggest challenge of her life.

That seems small now.

“I am very frightened, heartbroken and angry,” said Fedyna, who rushed to her parents’ farm 50 miles from Lviv when the attacks began. When she spoke to The Catholic Sentinel, the region had yet to be invaded by Russian ground troops, but air raid sirens sound almost hourly and the family scurries to the potato cellar for shelter. Sleep comes in two-hour fits and starts.

“I am more or less in a safe place because people in other regions of Ukraine are dying every minute under airstrikes and women give birth in bomb shelters,” Fedyna said. “So I have no moral right to say that I am in big danger right now.”

Everyone, everywhere, is chipping in for the war effort. Fedyna translates news updates into English to be broadcast abroad. Her family donates milk, cheese and produce to feed the Ukrainian army and refugees.

Fedyna calls the attack a “genocide of the Ukrainian nation” and urges the West to halt it.

“The main fear is that Russian troops are totally unpredictable,” she said. They have a reputation of failing to follow conventions.

Fedyna watched in horror as the Russians fired at the biggest railway station in Kyiv as thousands of people were trying to flee.

In some occupied towns, people have been trapped for more than a week without food, light or heat. She and others felt terror when a Russian attack hit Europe’s largest nuclear plant.

Schools and churches are being destroyed, she reported, adding that Russian troops have been shooting at evacuation buses full of women and children.

“I have no comments, no tears anymore,” she said. “My heart bleeds from pain and anger.”

Fedyna also feels angry because her country’s 1,500 years of history seem to be forgotten. Kyiv is older than Moscow, she said.

“We as people created by God have our right to live on our land, to be free, to have dignity and values that we want and not what Putin wants,” she said.

Ukraine has a long history of oppression, including the tsarist autocracy, Stalinist terror, Nazi occupation and communist dictatorship.

“Regardless of history, severe poverty and seemingly insurmountable obstacles, Ukrainians established a democracy,” Fedyna said. “When faced with the threat of autocracy in 2004 and 2013, Ukrainians twice rose in revolt to defend their freedom.”

Her Catholic faith is her main refuge. “I and the whole of Ukraine, and all Ukrainians in the world, pray constantly,” she said.

The whole nation has an eye in Kyiv as a column of Russian troops approaches it.

“These fights for our capital are not only fights for our freedom as a nation. This is a fight for human rights, for democracy, for human dignity,” she said. “Before the war I had many dreams. One of them was to apply for a PhD in linguistics in the U.S. or abroad. Now my dream is to survive.”

Langlois is managing editor of the Catholic Sentinel, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Portland.

Featured image: Pro-Russian troops in uniforms without insignia walk near a residential building destroyed in the separatist-controlled town of Volnovakha, Ukraine, March 11, 2022. Volnavoakha is in the east of Ukraine while Lviv is in the west. (CNS photo/Alexander Ermochenko, Reuters)

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