BILLINGS — Mother and daughter Olena Henley and Alyona Shvets immigrated from Ukraine to Billings in 2005. Their entire family is still in Ukraine, currently living through the Russian invasion.
“They’ve never lived through anything like this. We never would have expected this from Russia,” Shvets said Thursday from her home.
Their family lives in the western part of Ukraine, in Khmelnytskyi and Starokonstantinov.
“My grandparents, my dad, my aunts and uncles, my cousins, everyone is over there,” Shvets said.
Some of Shvets' relatives have experienced the Russian invasion first-hand.
“One of the airstrikes hit our home town of Starokonstantinov because it has a military base, one of the biggest military bases in Ukraine,” Shvets said. “We are definitely worried, and our families are scared.”
For Shvets' mother, the news of the invasion is still fresh. “I went through all kinds of stages: stress, cry, proud. I mean everything,” Henley said.
The mother-daughter duo has been in contact with family since the invasion began.
“We are trying to stay in touch with our loved ones and we’re also staying in touch with our community here and just bringing the support, whether it’s here or halfway across the world,” Shvets said.
Despite the circumstances, the rest of the family is safe and gearing up for what’s next.
“My Ukrainian people, they’re warriors, and they are really strong. And they’re united and they’re going to fight to the end,” Henley said.
Henley says that though men are being drafted to fight, many are volunteering to protect their country.
“I mean if it’s time to stand up for our country, then it’s time,” Henley said.
Many families are fleeing Ukraine for safety, but this family is staying put. “No, they’re not leaving. They are staying. My mom said I’m not going to leave anywhere, I’m going to stay here,” Henley said.
Shvets says that this is a war that nearly everybody wanted to avoid: “Ukrainians don’t want this war and neither do Russians. We do have some family in Moscow that my mother reached out to, and nobody wants this."
Henley says that her people are ready for whatever happens: “Our heroes are there. They’re ready. Bring it on.”