SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – Devastating images continue to come out of Ukraine. Tens of thousands are believed to have died already, and families remain separated after fleeing the fighting. In a war with no end in sight, one Ukrainian family still has hope thanks to the Spirit of Springfield.
Back in January, Max and Olena Stasuik, and their two kids were enjoying a day in Kyiv. They were ice skating and celebrating a birthday.
“We were very happy. I think we didn’t know we were happy,” said Olena. “You never think that you are happy with your ordinary life, with your ordinary days.”
Just three months later, the Ukrainian capital is unrecognizable. It’s been destroyed by Russian bombs and missiles.
“They destroy our people and country,” explained Max.
“The air alarms sound everyday and night. Still. The sound is so unpleasant,” Olena said. “Everyday, I think it’s a nightmare, it’s a bad dream, and we will wake up somehow and it will have stopped.”
As the situation got worse throughout the country, the family had to make a tough decision. Olena, their 12-year old son, 17-year old daughter and 68-year old aunt escaped to Italy as refugees. Max is still in Ukraine, not able to leave their home in Cherkasy.
“I ask the children and my wife to take videos and photos and send them to me so it seems that they are just in another room,” Max said.
The family talks on video chat and on the phone multiple times a day.
“We try not to think that we are separated and that the distance between us doesn’t mean anything because our hearts are together, our heads are together, our movements are together,” Olena said.
Half a world away, Max has been working with the Spirit of Springfield to illustrate a book based on Bright Nights at Forest Park. When the organization’s President Judy Matt found out that he was in Ukraine, she wanted to help. They are selling Little Frog and the Bright Lights for $10. The money will go to the Stasuik family.
“We are getting them (orders) from everywhere,” Matt said. “People want to have a way they can support these people, and this is it.”
Olena said the money will help them continue to live in Italy because she doesn’t have a work visa in there.
“It’s very hard to be in a foreign country when you do not know where to go or who to ask for help, nothing. It’s just a very, very hard situation,” Olena said.
They don’t know how much longer they will be apart because men 18 to 60-years old are not allowed to leave Ukraine in case they are called on to help fight.
“We never wanted war,” Max said. “We never wanted to attack anyone. We were happy.”
Anyone interested in purchasing the book can do so here, 100% of the proceeds go to Max and his family.