Polina Panasenko is a junior at Gould Academy in Bethel and hopes to return to her parents and grandfather in Ukraine after “we win” the war with the Russians, she said. Rose Lincoln/The Bethel Citizen

BETHEL — Gould Academy junior Polina Panasenko hopes to return to Ukraine “once we win” and be united with her parents and grandfather, who is serving in the army.

The 17-year-0ld planned to study in the United States and was finishing high school when the Russians attacked her country.

“It changed a lot of things, generally my everyday life,” she said. “It’s really hard to plan anything, when you don’t know what’s going to happen the next minute. A Polish family took us into their house for four months. They are my second family, now.”

As an alumni of the Ukrainian Global Scholars program she eventually was accepted at Gould. Graduating next year will give her the opportunity to study at an American University, she said. She hopes to be a journalist and is part of a group at Gould that is restarting the school newspaper. She speaks Ukrainian, Russian and English.

She and her family live in Vyshdorod near the capital city Kyiv. Her brother, Tymofii, 14, attends Cardigan Mountain School, an all-boys independent boarding school for grades six through nine in Canaan, New Hampshire.

She worries about her parents who are working and have no plans to leave. Her grandfather has joined the Ukrainian Army and is in a different part of the country. They regularly keep in touch.


She has an app on her phone that sends a message when the air alarm goes off in Vyshdorod.

“Sometimes I wake up and there is an alarm going off in my town,” she said, and her mother tells her they are OK in the basement. “They’re trying their best (not to worry me) and I’m so grateful for that,” she said.

“To me personally, it’s scarier to be here, because I don’t know what’s going on with my parents and my friends,” Polina said. “It’s scarier to not know. That’s something I was not prepared for.”

She learned how to ski at age 4 with her “grandpa” and has joined the ski patrol at Gould, learning life saving skills such as CPR, wilderness/first responder skills and how to treat primary care injuries.

“It’s a really useful skill,” she said.

Recently she and three classmates who are Ukrainian heard George Fox of Bethel speak at Gould about his experiences as a care worker in Ukraine.

“I’m impressed that someone who has a life here in Bethel, in Maine, in the U.S. saw the news and decided to go there … That is a huge empathy that a person has toward the problems that other people have,” Panasenko said.

“Ukrainians are extremely grateful for any help we get,” she said. “Ukraine is definitely standing for good values and world peace.”

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