BOONE — For one Appalachian State University professor and his wife, the news that Russia could invade Ukraine isn’t a world away. It’s news that hits close to home.
Andrew Polonsky, an assistant professor in the computer science department at App State, is originally from Eastern Ukraine, along with his wife, Victoria Kovtun.
On Feb. 18, President Joe Biden — during an update on Russia and Ukraine — responded to a reporter’s question and said that he is convinced Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to invade Ukraine. Biden also said that Russia had “well over 150,000 troops arrayed” on Ukraine’s border.
“We have reason to believe the Russian forces are planning to and intend to attack Ukraine in the coming weeks — in the coming days,” Biden said at the briefing.
Polonsky said his father lives in a small village that he thinks wouldn’t mean anything if Russia invaded. However, he and his wife are both worried about her side of the family that lives in Kharkiv — a city less than 30 miles from the Russian border and about 300 miles from the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.
Polonsky said his wife’s family are civilians in Kharkiv and could be in the line of fire if that area was invaded. According to media reports, Russian military hardware had been spotted near Kharkiv.
“They have their whole life there,” Polonsky said. “They can’t adjust (or) move on and start a new life somewhere else. For them, (an invasion) is really a threat to the whole life that they have.”
Polonsky’s father has a U.S. Visa, so he said his father could stay with them in the U.S. for a few weeks or months if the situation worsened.
For Kovtun, all of her family lives in either Kharkiv, Kyiv or Poltava. She hasn’t visited them for two years because of COVID-19 and she said she misses them. Last October, she gave birth to her and Polonsky’s first child, Ronnie.
“But instead of beautiful thoughts about planning Ronnie’s meeting with his big Ukrainian family, I have a terrible thought: ‘What will happen with my loved ones if Russia will attack Ukraine?’” Kovtun said. “I am constantly feeling anger, frustration, helplessness and guilt that I am far away and cannot help. I really don’t know what to do if the big war really starts — neither does my family.”
She said she feels like people in Ukraine have lived for many years with “the barrel of a gun pointed at them” and that with time they get used to it, but the level of stress remains the same.
“You don’t know when the trigger will be pulled,” Kovtun said.
Some of Kovtun’s family have military backgrounds and could be called to service in case of a full-scale war, Polonsky said.
In talking with their family, Polonsky said it’s trying to analyze what’s happening while following all the developments. He said that it’s a little easier to analyze with news from Ukraine and from Russia right there. He said with news from the American media, it can sometimes feel like a game of broken telephone that creates a lack of context.
Polonsky also said that he thinks the American response to the tensions has been pretty good so far. He said by bringing Putin’s plans into the spotlight, he believes the U.S. is making it more difficult for Russia to invade, when the whole world is watching.
He also said that hearing from “many Ukrainian military sources, they are ready for this fight and are confident that Russia will not be able to militarily defeat Ukraine.”
However, Polonsky did he hopes it does not come to a large-scale war between Ukraine and Russia, but leading up to whatever happens, he said it’s terrifying to watch.
“It is like watching a horror movie unfolding in real life,” Polonsky said. “You can’t look away.”