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Social Justice
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.

In Ukraine, a volunteer is split between two worlds created by war

Russia Ukraine
Jon Gambrell/AP
Smoke rises after a Russian missile strike in Lviv, Ukraine, late Tuesday, May 3, 2022. Russian missile strikes targeted the city in western Ukraine on Tuesday, hitting electrical substations and disrupting power. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)

A couple weeks ago, Russian missiles struck Lviv in Western Ukraine. That’s where Ukrainian American Irene Danysh is volunteering.

When we last spoke with her, she was at home in Burien, packing up and preparing to head for the war-torn region to help some of the nearly seven million people who are displaced inside the country.

KNKX Social Justice Reporter Lillyana Fowler caught up with Danysh over Zoom from Lviv to see how she’s doing.

Listen above or read excerpts below.

Lillyana Fowler: I want to start off with the recent Russian missile strike that hit Lviv. When you were getting ready to leave, you told me you weren't so worried about safety. Did that make you feel less safe?

Irene Danysh: No, it didn't make me feel less safe. To be perfectly honest, I was jogging in the park right here next to home, and I saw something fly over and I said, that's a little bit skinny to be an airplane, must be a missile. And then I heard, you know, the kaboom. One of those five missiles I guess did hit some car repair shop, but otherwise they all hit their intended targets. I'm looking at this all statistically, and I feel pretty strongly that, you know, if you're living in a neighborhood, an inner city neighborhood in the U.S. where there's a lot of gun violence, you're a lot less safe than I am here.

Irene smiles wearing a white sweater in front of a blossoming tree.
Courtesy Irene Danysh
Irene Danysh, a resident of Burien, Wash., is the daughter of Ukranian refugees.

LF: The last time you volunteered there was in 2014 when Russia invaded and annexed Crimea. (Danysh was head of a humanitarian mission there.) Now you keep referring to these internally displaced people. That's what you described your work as being when you were preparing to head out there that you were going to help internally displaced people. Is the work like what you imagined?

ID: So yes, the west is the place where people are coming. So the population here has, you know, risen exponentially, even though you can't see the people, the prices of apartments, the availability of apartments is just, you know, the prices have skyrocketed. The availability is essentially nonexistent. Yes. And people ask me why I don't see people, why I don't see them on the streets. But my answer is that in a traditional culture like Ukraine's, nobody goes walking around the streets if they don't have any money to spend.

LF: Danysh says she sometimes feels like she’s living a double life there. That it’s like watching the world through a split screen.

ID: I'm constantly writing to lots of friends one on one and giving them, trying to give them a picture of my life. I'm extremely happy to be here. I'm having a wonderful, fulfilling experience. And then there is the war which is both you know, really terrible…and also very moving because of all the people banding together and working together and in solidarity and making sacrifices and everything.

LF: On one side, she sees people helping each other and on the other people are killing each other. Danysh says she’s had some misgivings about being involved in a war at all.

ID: We all want to support this army. But really, it's everybody's relatives in uniform. The most important thing I can be doing on some level is to try to raise money for their safety, for their helmets, for their bulletproof vests, for their night vision goggles, for any drones.

My own ethical dilemma is that before this war began, I was all my life, a pacifist. And I didn't believe at all that one can, and should, you know, engage in a war. And you know, I do feel terrible for the Russian soldiers on the other side there.

Danysh hopes to stay in the country for a couple more months. KNKX plans to stay in touch.

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