JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Lilia Vintoniak moved to Johnson City less than a year ago. In that time, she has taught herself English, marking her fourth known language. On Wednesday night, she watched in horror as her hometown in western Ukraine was bombed by Russian forces.
She told News Channel 11 she felt powerless, yearning for her loved ones to escape the terror.
Vintoniak said that her father described his home shaking as the bombs fell just a few blocks away.
“People just sleep because in Ukraine it was 4 o’clock in the morning, and my father, I called to him because we live close to airport, and he say he wake up because he worry. Like it like shake windows and of course, people go into like panic. We just don’t know what will happen,” Vintoniak said Friday morning, describing the bombing earlier in the week.
Several airports across Ukraine became targets of Russian missile strikes, but the Ivano-Frankivsk Airport was only 10 minutes from her family home where her father awoke.
Vintoniak said her father described their entire home shaking and the water in their aquarium splashing. She explained that she’s lived with a near-constant fear and anxiety since the news broke.
“It’s very hard because in the physical, but while I’m here, my heart, my mind, it’s every time there and you don’t can did nothing,” she said. “You just read the information, you just all day inform with your family because you’re very worried about it. I just find some information, I’m every time calling and calling and it’s so crazy. It’s so crazy, and I just don’t sleep tonight because I’m very scared that when I wake up and it will be so crazy information and very hard what I hear.”
Vintoniak has a 15-year-old son, Bogdan, and several nieces, nephews, siblings and cousins still in Ukraine.
“It’s very hard because it’s kids and now they’ll be going to war,” she said while sitting thousands of miles away in Johnson City.
She explained that her son, Bogdan, chose to finish high school in Ukraine before joining his mother and step-father in Johnson City. He currently lives with his maternal grandmother.
Vintoniak said that her mother had a bad feeling the day before the Russian invasion.
“She have very good intuitions, you know, I always believed she did. And everybody told she like ‘nothing’s going to happen, it’s quiet, why you think like?’ No, she told, ‘I have bad intuition, I have bad intuition, I move, I move,’ and she just like moved the day before it was beginning to happen. Can you imagine? I just tell my mom, ‘mom, I swear, thank you. You just saved my son.'”
Her sister lives in Poland, so Vintoniak said her mother and son now reside with her.
“I just cry. Scared and cry, everybody, I cry, you know? It’s so stressful because you don’t know what to do. Nobody wants to run from his country, you want to stay and live and the people are so scared so much and they don’t know what to do,” she said.
She said she had a phone conversation with her cousin in Ukraine on Thursday.
“I told she ‘why you don’t go to sleep?’ She told me ‘I is scared to go to sleep.’ Many people I know now don’t sleep,” Vintoniak told News Channel 11.
She explained that most of her time over the past two days was primarily spent in tears.
“I just cry, I just cry and just speak with family every time, every time and just don’t sleep,” she said.
She said that the coronavirus pandemic caused enough stress to every person on the planet and that nobody deserves to have their country invaded while still under this stress, if ever.
“Let us go just live normal, and kids have normal future where kids can go to finish school, go to university, or to work,” she said.
Her dream is for Russians to be banned from Ukraine’s airspace so the air raids can come to an end and her people can live in peace.
“And it’s mothers, you know? Every mother is very scared about kids, very. I hope it will be finished. I hope everybody, all the world will hear us and help because we don’t can did it for ourselves. We need the help so much,” Vintoniak said.
Back in Johnson City, a rally will be held in support of the people of Ukraine Saturday at 11 a.m. at Founder’s Park.