Alisa Hoodikoff couldn’t sleep for days. She watched from Annapolis as her home in Ukraine was invaded by thousands of Russian troops on Thursday, the conflict spilling into the capital city of Kyiv, where she spent the first 20 years of her life.
The 23-year-old artist worries for her friends who are still there. She talked on the phone for hours with her best friend Paola, who lives in Kyiv, listening to explosions in the background as the city of nearly three million people was bombed by Russian missiles. When they ran out of things to talk about, the friends sat in silence. Simply feeling a bond through an open phone connection helped stave off the dread of war.
“We hardly even talk; we just keep the phone on speaker and just say a few things here and there. It just feels like we’re next to each other, you know,” said Hoodikoff, who runs the Habitat Art Gallery out of the Downtown Hope Church on West Street. “I hear her cry and it makes me cry.”
Like many Anne Arundel County residents who have roots in the warring countries, Hoodikoff and her parents, Victoria and Kelly, watched anxiously as Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine, sending Eastern Europe into the worst armed conflict since World War II. Fighting entered its sixth day Tuesday as Russian bombing pounded Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy condemned as a blatant campaign of terror by Putin.
The elder Hoodikoffs worked as missionaries in Kyiv for 26 years, raising two children there and making lifelong friends before coming to Annapolis in 2019. Over the weekend, they decided they needed to take action. They plan to travel back to Ukraine in April to provide humanitarian aid.
“These are our friends; we don’t just forget them,” Victoria Hoodikoff said Monday. She hopes the conflict will have died down in a month, but if the war is still ongoing, the family will enter the country through Poland.
Alisa Hoodikoff, a dual U.S. and Canadian citizen, said she is at peace with the decision to go back. After days of trying, her friend Paola successfully escaped to Poland on Monday, Hoodikoff said, but other friends remain. She wants to take art supplies to give to children “and just help them process what they’ve been through with art.”
“I’m not nervous,” Alisa Hoodikoff said Monday as she wore a Ukrainian vyshyvanka, a traditional embroidered shirt worn by citizens, in a sign of solidarity. “It’s better than being here and doing nothing. We’ll try to do whatever we can, but we’re also just coming with open hands.”
Other Anne Arundel residents with Ukrainian roots have also begun to mobilize to send aid to their homeland.
Gene Hudyma, a first-generation Ukrainian-American and retired podiatrist, is planning to donate equipment to Ukraine from his former medical practice in Glen Burnie. He said he has to do something to help the people of Ukraine because their struggle reminds him of what his relatives went through 80 years ago to escape the conflict of World War II.
“We are children of people who were refugees in World War II,” said Hudyma, 66, who now lives in Millersville. “Between the Nazis and the Russians, they were caught between a rock and a hard place, and they had to survive in very much the same story that’s going on in Ukraine today.”
There is a small but close-knit Ukrainian community in the Baltimore area that Hudyma grew up in, he said. Speaking Ukrainian at home and learning about the centuries-long history of his culture was a critical part of his upbringing. The last week has been “heartbreaking and devastating and morally crushing,” Hudyma said.
“We’re looking to get together some supplies to hopefully send a container to Ukraine and find the right people who can get it into their hands because they’re going to need all the help they can get,” he said.
Hudyma attended services at St. Michael the Archangel Ukrainian Catholic Church in Baltimore on Monday where Gov. Larry Hogan visited for a special prayer service.
Afterward, Hogan announced he would end Maryland’s symbolic “Sister State” relationship with Russia’s St. Petersburg region.
Baltimore, meanwhile, is reforging its ties with the Ukrainian city of Odesa, a partnership that dates back to 1974, Mayor Brandon Scott said Friday in a news release.
Karina Mandell, a Ukrainian by birth who now lives in Baltimore, serves as the chair of the Baltimore-Odesa Sister City Committee. She took a diplomatic trip to the southern port city in August to meet with its mayor, Gennadiy Trukhanov, during the 30th anniversary of Ukrainian independence to discuss collaborations with the city’s symphonies and a study abroad program. Six months later, Mandell called Trukhanov as Russian troops laid siege to his city.
“When I met him we weren’t talking about war, we were talking about collaborations,” she said. “That has been derailed because of an invasion.”
Since fighting began, Mandell has been raising awareness by facilitating a webinar about the conflict and calling on Hogan and other leaders across the state to light up buildings in the colors of the Ukrainian flag in solidarity.
The Governor’s Mansion, Annapolis City Hall and other buildings across the state were bathed in blue and yellow over the weekend.
The people of Ukraine are being “unimaginably courageous in the face of a threat that few of us could fathom,” Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley said Monday during a City Council meeting. “An invading Russian army, armored vehicles rolling down city streets, artillery fire, missile strikes into residential neighborhoods. The invasion is audacious but the fight Ukrainians are waging is heroic.”
David Sislen, the rabbi at Kneseth Israel Congregation in Annapolis, said he planned to add a prayer and a poem written by a Ukrainian author to his sermon at the Forest Drive synagogue in support of the tens of thousands of Jewish people who live in the country. The war is an ominous sign for Jews everywhere, Sislen said.
“We are in a weird place because, on the one hand, it’s distant,” he said. “But on the other hand, there isn’t a Jewish person alive or familiar with history that doesn’t see the incredibly ominous tidings of Russia completely ignoring international norms. It’s scary.”
The last time conflict flared between Ukraine and Russia was in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea, Ukraine’s southern peninsula in the Black Sea, in an effort to continue asserting its influence in the region. The Hoodikoffs were still living in the country at the time.
The Morning Sun
“We’ve always known that Russia was bullying us for many years ever since 2014. So this wasn’t new to us,” Alisa Hoodikoff said. “However, the degree of how much [Putin] has really taken action. That we were not expecting.”
On Friday morning, the Hoodikoffs attended a rally in Washington, D.C. with some other Ukrainian friends.
Outside the White House, the group chanted and sang the Ukrainian national anthem as they called on President Joe Biden to immediately increase military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Biden did so on Sunday, announcing an additional $350 million in military aid to the country.
The gathering was emotional but uplifting, Alisa Hoodikoff said, because of the sense of unity she felt with people there from other countries. She plans to attend other rallies in the coming weeks as she prepares to head back to the country she still calls home.
Despite that moment of solidarity, the ubiquity of smartphones and second-by-second updates about the conflict on social media and television often aren’t enough to convey to Americans the seriousness of the situation, Hoodikoff said.
“Think about how you would feel if somebody took over Maryland,” she said. “The state next to us decides one day they’re going to start bombing you.
“You can’t go to school. All of your friends are in a bomb shelter. You’re hearing sirens constantly in downtown Annapolis. How would that make you feel?”