CHICAGO (AP) – When Russia invaded her home country of Ukraine, Maria decided she had to get there and help defend it – even if it meant leaving her fiancé behind in Chicago days after getting married.
Maria and her fiancé, David, married on Saturday before about 20 people in the backyard of an Oak Park home – the venue offered last minute after Maria asked for advice in a neighbourhood Facebook group. The couple met last year and got engaged in October.
Today, she plans to fly to Poland, then make her way to the Ukrainian border, ultimately aiming to volunteer to fight for her home country.
“People are running out of there and she is running in,” said a friend at the wedding, Pamela Chinchilla of Lombard.
Seven guests at the wedding brought medical supplies, masks and other items for Maria to take to Ukraine. People hugged each other, and Maria at one point spoke with family members in Odesa.
Maria, who asked that her last name not be published because she fears for her family’s safety in Ukraine and the United States (US), said she lived with her parents in Kyiv until 1991 when the family moved to Poland.
For Maria, a previous marriage ended in divorce. She met her ex-husband while studying music in Austria and more than 20 years ago they moved to his hometown of Chicago – which has the second-largest Ukrainian-born population among US cities.
Since the war began, she used messages and calls through Facebook to keep in touch with her parents, who have been sheltering in a parking garage during attacks on Ukraine’s largest port city of Odesa. But she said she has been unable to reach cousins in Kyiv in
Three days into the invasion, Maria made up her mind to return to Ukraine, determined to find some way to be useful. She said she doesn’t have medical or military training but worries that a Russian takeover of Ukraine will embolden the country to threaten more places around the world.
“I have to go,” Maria, 44, said. “I can’t do protests or fundraising or wave flags. We’ve done this since 2015, Ukrainians, and I just can’t do it anymore.”
Her fiancé refused to stay behind despite Maria’s resistance to him accompanying her. But since David first needs to apply for a passport, she plans to leave today and wait in Poland before crossing the border.
“He knows how stubborn I am and knew he’d have no chance to convince me otherwise,” Maria said.
David, 42, said he feels a responsibility to do what he can to keep her safe. “Because complacency and compliance are pretty much the same thing,” he said. “And you can only turn a blind eye to people being bullied for so long. And if it happens to them, it might be you next.”
He also asked that his last name not be published to avoid endangering Maria’s family.
Ukraine’s forces are outnumbered and outgunned, but their resistance did prevent a swift Russian victory. Ukrainian leaders called on citizens to join in guerrilla war this week as Russian forces gained ground on the coast and took over one major port city.
Associated Press reporters at the border checkpoint in Medyka in southeastern Poland found Ukrainians lining up to return from other countries in Europe in recent days in response to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s call for volunteers to come assist the country’s military.