Yuliia Pankratova has been calling family members in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv every hour or so just to make sure they are alive. Only days ago, an explosion leveled a building near where her parents live.

“The power was so strong, it blew out their windows and they were lifted out of their beds,” she said on Friday.

Pankratova, 26, moved to the U.S. when she was 18 and lives in Westbrook. She said Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, has “gone absolutely mad,” but she’s confident Ukraine will prevail.

“Russia is not fighting against our military, but against the entire country,” she said. “And they stand no chance. I do think it will end well for Ukraine, but unfortunately, I think there will be a lot of deaths before that happens.”

She can only hope her family members aren’t among the civilian casualties caught up in the conflict. They can’t leave Kyiv, and every day, it seems, there are sirens warning of air strikes. She has a 9-year-old cousin there with whom she’s close.

“I talk to her because her birthday is coming up soon, and I want her to think about what I can get for a present or where I might be able to take her,” Pankratova said. “And she said to me, ‘Well, we have to survive this first.’ ”


Watching the news each day since Russia invaded her home country on Feb. 24 has been disheartening for Pankratova. Families trying to flee across the western border. Civilians, children even, killed by mortar strikes.

She hasn’t been back since 2014, when she left Ukraine not long after protesters overthrew the country’s government and ousted then-president Viktor Yanukovych. That action led to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, which escalated the conflict between the two countries.

She ended up in Maine because she knew people here who had a store in Old Orchard Beach where she could work on a temporary visa. She is married to a U.S. citizen – who is from the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan – and plans to apply for U.S. citizenship herself. She now works at an accountant’s office in Portland.

The hardest part of watching what’s happening in Ukraine is knowing her family members don’t really have a way out.

“They can’t really leave. Anyone who is between 18-60 and is male can’t leave because they might be asked to fight,” she said. “And my aunt, she says, ‘If we die, we die together.’”

Her cousin, the 9-year-old, loves her dad too much to leave him behind.

“But every night, she’s hearing the explosions, you know,” Pankratova said. “She has grown up a lot in the past two weeks.”

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