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The daughter of Ukrainian refugees, Burien, Wash. resident Irene Danysh traveled to Lviv, Ukraine in March 2022 to volunteer with a group providing housing for refugees. KNKX will be periodically checking in with Danysh.

The daughter of Ukrainian refugees, a Burien resident returns to their homeland to volunteer

Russia Ukraine War Daily Life
Nariman El-Mofty/AP
Pedestrians make their way on a street in Lviv, western Ukraine, Wednesday, March 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

For Burien resident Irene Danysh, the war in Ukraine hits very close to home. Her parents were both refugees from the country. They left as children in 1944, when Nazis occupied Soviet Ukraine.

Now at age 61, Danysh is back in Ukraine. In late March she left for Lviv to volunteer with a group that’s providing housing for a new wave of refugees.

Danysh is not a first-time volunteer. She’s been active in Latino and African immigrant communities in Washington state, an aid worker in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and helped start a humanitarian mission in Ukraine in 2014 when Russia invaded and annexed Crimea.

Her family has always kept up close ties to Ukraine. Danysh says she grew up in a very patriotic household. Her father was president of the Ukrainian club of Washington for 10 years.

When Ukraine became independent again in 1991, and the Soviet Union fell apart, Danysh's parents bought her a ticket to go to her father's hometown in Ukraine near Lviv.

"Since then, I've been going back all the time," she says.

Danysh says she expected war to break out after she heard Russian President Vladimir Putin in a televised speech in February claiming that Ukraine never had a tradition of statehood.

Russia Ukraine War Putin
Russian Presidential Press Service
FILE - In this image made from video released by the Russian Presidential Press Service, Russian President Vladimir Putin addressees the nation in Moscow, Russia, on Feb. 24, 2022. In the televised speech he claimed that Ukraine never had a tradition of statehood. (Russian Presidential Press Service via AP)

"I immediately knew this is it. He's going to start the war," she says.

At the beginning of the Russian invasion, Danysh says she felt horrible waking up at home in Washington state and thinking about the events in Ukraine, knowing much worse was on its way.

As bad as she felt about what was happening, Danysh says the decision to travel back to Ukraine to volunteer was not an easy one.

Danysh, who has a doctorate in literature, has participated in aid work in other parts of the world, and she says too often she’s seen volunteers just get in the way. She agreed to go only when the non-profit she’s assisting, the Ukrainian Education Platform, assured her that she was needed.

"This organization has been very popular all over Ukraine, youth coming together as volunteers, building up some community centers. And so there are now 13 of them in Ukraine," Danysh explains.

She says that the day the war started, the Ukrainian Education Platform switched their activities and transformed their community centers into homes for refugee families, mothers and children who are internally displaced.

Russia Ukraine War One Month Photo Gallery
Bernat Armangue/AP
Ukrainian volunteers sort donated foods for later distribution to the local population while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy appears on television in Lviv, western Ukraine, Wednesday, March 2, 2022. Volunteerism has seized the city. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Asked if she's concerned about safety, Danysh said she's not. She is going to Lviv, not far from her father's hometown. She has relatives and friends there and also worked there for four years. Danysh believes Lviv is far down on Russia’s list of cities to take over.

"My biggest fear at my age is simply sleep deprivation because there will be sirens going off during the night," Danysh says.

She's prepared to throw clothes over her pajamas, grab ear plugs and spend hours in the basement when the air raid sirens sound.

Since speaking with KNKX, Danysh has arrived safely in Ukraine and she’s started to keep a journal of her time there. Her first entry is about a new colleague’s excitement about being able to return to her home near Kyiv since the Russian army’s retreat and the local authorities promised to demine the road she lives on.

KNKX will be checking in with Danysh periodically to see how her volunteer work is going. She plans to stay in the country for several months.

Lilly Ana Fowler reports on social justice issues for KNKX. She previously worked for the nonprofit news site Crosscut — a partner of KCTS 9, Seattle’s PBS station. Reach her at
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