“The devastation mounts, and it’s cumulative.”

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – One year after Putin’s escalation of the war in Ukraine, a local Ukrainian student says people are forming unsettling routines.

“People start finding the environment of war more present, less extraordinary,” Yaro Hnatusko, the executive director for Restore Ukraine, said. “Something to cope with daily, and it becomes more habitual.”

The horrors of war are too much for some, but Yaro said the people of Ukraine have adapted.

Yaro Hnatusko has lived in the Tri-Cities for years as a student. The war escalated when he was away from home. (Photo/WJHL)

“It becomes more of a habit to deal with it,” Hnatusko said. “To disregard the airstrike sirens, to disregard other dangerous invasions. So the war has led people to realize that it’s a new reality.”

Supply chains and national mobility remains a challenge for those near the fight, but Hnatusko said some people have returned to work to provide for themselves or their families.

“There are moments where the humanitarian support cannot reach them, and that’s the point of them finding jobs that are most available because mostly they are not,” Hnatusko said. “Many other resources, they have to get or make to continue their lives.”

What hasn’t returned to normal, however, is the state of housing and repair found in Ukrainian cities. Hnatusko said the amount of work put in across the country just can’t keep up with the continued destruction.

“The amount of devastation is not matched with the amount of rebuilding process [by] the government coupled with all the NGOs that are partnering with many governments and other larger global organizations that work together,” Hnatusko said. “That means at this point the missiles continue flying into people’s backyards.”

Humanitarian aid has started to dwindle in some areas as well.

“It is not as massive as what we have seen when the war broke out, sadly,” Hnatusko said. “And at that point, of course, the whole country got paralyzed. Very sudden invasion, everybody was unprepared. Everybody was not qualified to fight in the way we have to fight right now.”

Power infrastructure, one of Ukraine’s most-targeted assets, remains in disrepair.

“At a point, it came down to actually half of the country being paralyzed because of the lack of electricity,” Hnatusko said.

Despite the challenges, Yaro said he’s found a second home in East Tennessee. It helps that he’s part of a larger community of Ukrainian refugees in the area.

“Since we are all born and raised in Ukraine, there is a very strong tradition, like for East Tennesseans, to have a great sense of family and unity and hospitality,” Hnatusko said. “So that still remains with us. And we carry that not just within our internal circles… but also for us having an open door to anybody who wants to come to our house because as I said, that’s the way we treated everybody in Ukraine. So I think that’s a piece of culture we carry daily.”

The last time he checked, Hnatusko said East Tennessee housed between 300-400 Ukrainian refugees. As of Friday, they’re planning a ride through the region to show residents that the war is far from over.

“The fight is a very good fight,” Hnatusko said. “But we haven’t finished the fight yet. And also for the local residents to know that there is a massive threat to people’s life daily in Ukraine that I wish nobody has to experience.”

Hnatusko’s family has mostly come to the U.S. for refuge. His brother, Stan, remains in Ukraine to help with relief efforts and continue his career. Hnatusko is thankful for the peace his loved ones found here.

“I think the biggest lesson that can be carried over one year of war is actually taking time to celebrate life,” Hnatusko said. “Because not everybody has it. Not everybody can enjoy it. Not everybody can come home and have dinner. Not everybody can call and say ‘Hello Mom, hello Dad,’ and I think these are very, very important small moments that we disregard daily.”

Hnatusko’s goal for the region, regardless of war, is simple.

“For East Tennesseans to see, to appreciate and to value what they have and actually hold it with their hands as high as they can,” Hnatusko said. “Because it can evaporate. It’s not granted.”