This is War: Ukrainian student makes first visit home after Russian invasion

Imagine returning home and being greeted by complete darkness. So was the welcome-home for grad student Dariia Hozhenko.

Over winter break, Hozhenko returned  Ivano-Frankove, a city in Western Ukraine. A missile-damaged electric grid – which caused a nationwide power outage – wasn’t the only change Hozhenko witnessed.

“A lot of people are still staying without heat, electricity and water and my family is not an exception. A mandatory curfew is active between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.,” Hozhenko said. “You can feel straight away that it is a different Ukraine.”

During Hozhenko’s stay, a missile strike landed fewer than 500 meters from her house. At the time, Hozhenko’s mother was outside retrieving the family dog. Hozhenko ran outside, pajama-clad and barefoot, to tell her mom to take cover. 

“Air defense system hit the missile strike and debris from both of them fell in the lake near my home,” Hozhenko said. “In our kitchen, we have a tiny food cellar that now serves as a bomb shelter. We stayed there till the end of the air alarm.” 

Luckily, her neighborhood had minimal damage.

“We have powerful air defense in my region. I am very grateful to all soldiers who protect my family and my home,” Hozhenko said.

While several million Ukrainians fled their homes, Hozhenko’s mother chose to stay. Despite the honest answer, Hozhenko was not shocked by her response. 

“I understand her feelings as it is very hard to leave everything that you have, your entire life, and go somewhere where your future is very blurry,” Hozhenko said.

Since returning to Minnesota State, Hozhenko said she wants to inform people about the war in Ukraine and the pain and sadness people endure.

“All people in Ukraine are living day by day inside of the war in continuous danger,” Hozhenko said. “Russia is still there, still doing their evil things.”

Friday marks one year since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Thousands have been killed or injured. Hozhenko knows several who have been killed.

“My neighbor, the father of my best friend, some of my friends, friends of my friends, people from my city. A lot of people who are fighting for freedom are giving their life,” Hozhenko said. “It shouldn’t be like that. It is terrifying.”

Hozhenko said the war has given her strength to share her story and inform others on how they can help Ukraine.

“I became a stronger person who can manage stress and put all of my energy to help those people in need. I met a lot of wonderful people who were ready to help me and are still doing that. I respect and appreciate them a lot,” Hozhenko said. “I am grateful for opportunities to be useful for people and help as much as I can.”

She said the war has also given her a deeper appreciation for living in the moment, especially with her family.

“I am very happy to go through a lot of experiences in my life, feel life, valuing each moment of being alive,” Hozhenko said. 

Hozhenko mentioned how Ukrainians are in constant need of donations. She said several people not only donate to neighbors and friends, but those in the army. 

Hozhenko said she is grateful for the U.S.’s support. 

“Ukraine is not asking American soldiers to fight for us. We are asking for the weapons to be able to fight for the freedom of our country by ourselves,” Hozhenko said. “We really appreciate all your help and we are asking you to stand with us in a fight with the pure devil.”
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Header photo: Dariia Hozhenko and her mother reunited over winter break when she returned to Ukraine. Hozhenko said she’s become a stronger person since the Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. (Photo courtesy of Dariia Hozhenko)

Write to Emma Johnson at

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