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My Life in Kyiv, Ukraine

igor nastaskin, kindergarden, lenin, kyiv, ukraine
Pictured above, my kindergarden class with a photo of Lenin in the background.

Though past issues of this newsletter have focused on my fellow Riviera residents and our local businesses, with everything happening in the world right now I feel compelled to use this space to share my story of life growing up in Ukraine.

I Was Born in Kyiv, Ukraine When It Was Still Part of the Former USSR

I remember Kyiv as a beautiful city full of gorgeous tree-lined boulevards, impressive architecture, a lively downtown, and the mighty Dnieper River.

On visits to my grandmother, who lived in an old building around a major commercial area, I loved to peer out her window at the enormous circus building below. At that time the Kyiv circus was considered one of the best in the country.  Tickets were extremely difficult to get, but once a year my parents would manage to secure some and it was something I always looked forward to.

As a child, I thought I had a great life in Kyiv. I had a lot of friends in school and loved my teachers and sports — soccer, hockey, basketball, team handball, and track and field.  I didn’t even mind our small apartment on the 5th floor of a pre-fab Stalin-era building that had no elevator. It was all I knew, and it was home.

So I was shocked when, at the age of 12, my mother said she wanted us to leave Ukraine and the USSR.  I didn’t understand why we should leave what I saw as a perfectly good life for a future that was unknown at best and dangerous at worst.  I begrudgingly accepted her decision to leave my homeland and in the ensuing several years we endured many trials and tribulations before finally arriving in the U.S. in the mid-1970s.

As I got older, I realized the great courage and foresight my mom had to take us out of Kyiv for a life of freedom and self-fulfillment in America.  She witnessed the corruption in the USSR and didn’t want that to be part of my future.

As I sadly follow the tragic events in my old country, I can’t help but feel especially fortunate to live in what I consider to be the best country in the world. And even though it’s been 42 years since my mom passed away, I regularly think of her amazing courage and the incredible risk she took to give me this wonderful life.

I would like to ask you to say some prayers for peace for the Ukrainian people and the millions of refugees caught up in this senseless conflict.  In this issue, I have included a few of the many charitable organizations accepting donations for the people of Ukraine.

How to Help the People of Ukraine

ukraine, flag

There are many opportunities to provide donations that aid the people of Ukraine. Here are just a few.  I encourage you to research these and others to determine if they are appropriate for you.

CNN/Public Good: CNN has partnered with Public Good to provide a platform for donations to 40 organizations helping Ukraine, including Doctors Without Borders, the International Committee of the Red Cross, UNICEF and Save the Children. (Go to cnn.com/impact)

United Help Ukraine: This organization is working to provide life-saving first aid kits and other emergency medical supplies to the front lines. In addition, UHU is cooperating with other emergency response organizations to prepare humanitarian aid for civilians. (Go to unitedhelpukraine.org)

Stand With Ukraine/Go Fund Me: Actors Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher set up a Go Fund Me page called Stand with Ukraine. Donations support Flexport.org, which is organizing shipments of relief supplies to refugee sites in Poland, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Moldova, and Airbnb.org, which provides free, short-term housing to Ukrainian refugees. As of this writing, Stand With Ukraine has received more than $30 million through more than 67,000 donors. (Go to gofundme.com and search for Stand With Ukraine)

United Way:  United Way is assisting Ukrainian refugees with transportation, shelter, food, medicine, infant formula, diapers, hygiene kits and more. (Go to unitedway.org)