Ukrainian woman in Rochester reacts to President Biden’s visit to her homeland

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — President Joe Biden made a surprise trip to Ukraine Monday just ahead of this Friday’s first anniversary of Russian forces invading their neighbors and turning their country into an active war zone. 

News10NBC spoke to one local Ukrainian about the president’s visit and what this means for her people. Many local Ukrainians see the president’s trip as a show of support as they continue to fight against the Russian aggressors.

“Ukraine is not the same country,” said Elena Dilai about her homeland. “Ukraine is a country completely ruined by the war.”

Under the cloak of darkness, Biden traveled to and arrived in Ukraine’s capital city, Kyiv, early Monday morning. The unannounced trip was a complete surprise to Ukrainians at home, as well as here in Western New York. 

“It’s a high-risk trip for him, and not for nothing this was the first time in modern history that a U.S. president went to a war-engulfed country, and there was no military presence by U.S.,” said Dilai. “Infrastructure is not controlled by U.S. military. So this is a high-risk trip for him.”

She emigrated from Ukraine 30 years ago and now lives in Webster. Dilai says to see Biden visit her homeland is a big deal for all Ukrainians.

“It just gives them more hope that the war might be ending sooner rather than later,” said Dilai. “So there’s a lot of concern with China helping Russia, and Russia getting much bigger and much stronger.”

We asked Dalai about the daily lives of Ukrainians back home still dealing with the war.

“People are exhausted,” said Dilai. “Those who are still alive try to maintain a semi-normal life as much as they can if they live, not in the midst of the war, and those who are still in the midst of the war, they rely on organizations that can provide basic humanitarian aid supplies and assistance to them.”

The greater Rochester Ukrainian community continues to provide humanitarian aid to family and friends back home.

“We hold small fundraisers,” said Dilai. “We try to purchase medical aid, humanitarian assistance. Just now we are packing our 15th container. We have sent 14 large containers over the course of last year, and this year we’re sending container number 15 at the beginning of March.”

“It’s been a year,” said Dilai. “You can’t live in a bomb shelter for a whole year, so you have to somehow learn to live with this. My friend said a phrase, ‘I’ve learned not to be afraid.’ So that is I guess true for many Ukrainians.”

RocMaidan, the Rochester-based non-profit that sends humanitarian aid to Ukraine, is holding a prayer service on Friday to mark one year since the Russian military invaded Ukraine.

The prayer will be at St. Josaphat’s Ukrainian Catholic Church at 940 East Ridge Rd. at 6 p.m. The community will pray for the Ukrainian people, Ukrainian and non-Ukrainian soldiers, and rescue workers fighting to bring peace to Ukraine.

Click here for more information on how you can donate and what humanitarian supplies are needed most.