The Russian bombardment of a telecommunications tower in Ukraine. (Photo: Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine via Wikipedia Commons)

Anastasia Buzhduha remembers the beauty of Ukraine, of its peaceful hills, and the hearts her family left in search of greater opportunity when she was 10.

Years and thousands of miles away, the now 27-year-old speaks in Springfield of family who are still in Ukraine trying to process the changes that have come in recent days with the invasion by Russian forces.

Just as she herself is trying to do.

“I think they said it was nine miles long,” she says of the stretch of people seeking help near the western border of Ukraine, away from where the invasion has happened around the capital of Kyiv. “And people have just been there for days, and they’re just waiting to get through.”

Anastasia is part of Faith Missionary Church, a congregation that is housed at Harmony Baptist Church on Highway 125 between Springfield and Rogersville. Its more than 300 Ukrainian and Russian members are currently collecting funds to send to Ukraine where refugees are departing the country’s eastern edge.

Anastasia’s father, Oleksiy Buzhduha, planted the church around 10 years ago, and gave her permission to speak about the initiative. The money is being collected through Cash App — more info is below — with the proceeds to be given to people on the ground in Ukraine.

“The church has a facility (in Ukraine) where they’re putting beds, and they’re taking people in,” she says. “They need funds for food and all the necessities that you need. Some people haven’t eaten for days because they’re traveling, there’s no gas, they’re kind of in panic mode.”

Anastasia Buzhduha spent time on February 28 sharing about her church’s efforts to raise money for refugees in Ukraine. (Photo by Kaitlyn McConnell)

The local church recently sent funds, and will continue to do so as they are donated.

“The money that we sent them today is going to help them provide food and shelter and whatever they need,” says Anastasia.

She tells of individuals who are heading away from the invasion, but also of others who need help in making the trip — an area where those with the church are also serving.

“They’re getting escorted at night by military to go to the east side and taking families who cannot travel on their own.

“So they actually left today. It’s night right now,” she says around 6 p.m. on Monday night, “so they’re traveling at this moment.”

Will people stay on the western edge of Ukraine when they reach it, or will they try to depart the country?

“A lot of men 18 to 60 can’t go,” says Anastasia, a rule that’s tied to military service. “So if families are willing to go without their husbands, fathers, then they may want to come back. Some of them may just go for protection purposes and then try to leave the country and stay there until they think it’s over, and they’re hoping to come back. And then others, they just kind of stay on the west side and hopefully rely on humanitarian services and churches to offer them shelter for as much as they need.”

The church that she speaks of isn’t new to Anastasia. She grew up near the Romanian border in the village of Staryy Vovchenets, before her family came to the United States in search of a better life.

“My dad wanted us to be raised in a country where, you know, there’s just a lot more opportunities,” says Anastasia. “I’m 27, and I have a bachelor’s degree. I don’t think I’d ever be able to have that there. You know, it’s a different lifestyle.”

In the years since, she has been back to Ukraine various times on mission trips and work with the church. It’s a reminder of the place where she spent the first decade of life, and of things she didn’t “see” as a child but now are much more clear.

“I think seeing it from an adult perspective you see so differently,” she says of her time visiting Ukraine.

One particular moment, she notes, is a view from her aunt’s house that caused her to stop and take a photo — an uncommon occurrence for her, she says:

“I looked out the window and this view was here before and I never noticed it. … And I was just like, ‘Wow, it’s so pretty. I can’t believe I lived here for 10 years, and I’m glad to get to see it.’”

It also gives her a unique and heart-wrenching sight of the people and places currently impacted.

“So I think I can see how it affects my parents and myself more than the younger siblings, because they grew up here (in the U.S.),” says Anastasia of her family, who moved to Portland, Ore., prior to settling in Springfield 14 years ago. “So for them, I mean, it’s a tragedy and sad, but I see faces when I see what’s happening.”

Those are faces — in the land of sunflowers, accentuated by art and architecture and verses and poems — who Anastasia describes as poetic and deeply emotional.

“I think they’re very artistic,” she says. “Very hardworking, very artistic people who want things to be beautiful. Everybody has some kind of talent, whether it’s art or just, like, an eye for something like style.

“I think Ukrainians tend to keep to themselves and especially like the older generation, they hide their emotions, but they’re very deep — very wise and very deep. They’re not the kind of people to always be smiling, happy, but they can express it in words.”

She also shares of her family: Of her 94-year-grandfather, who finds it difficult to comprehend what is going on. Of her female cousin, who is a medic; who, like men of a certain age, was “drafted” into service for the country. Of that cousin’s decision to send her young daughter away from the city to stay with her mother in a village, “because they believe villages are more safe, because there’s less tall buildings,” Anastasia says. And of other relatives who are praying for safety, a harsh shift from recent days when things didn’t seem that bad.

“They’re like, No, it’s not bad. Everything’s fine,” says Anastasia of recent thoughts in Ukraine.

Before they suddenly weren’t.

“And then all of a sudden, it’s not, you know, things came as a shock, because they didn’t think it was going to escalate the way it did,” she says. “They were not planning on that. Like nobody anticipated that it was like that. I think we anticipated it here more than they did.

“I think they liked their lifestyle there. Like how it was before this started a few days ago.

“They were so looking forward to their bright futures, the progress the country was making.”

Want to help?

Click here to access a QR code for Cash App, the platform Faith Missionary Church is using to collect donations. To activate the code, open your phone’s camera and hold it over the pixilated image, then click the image when a yellow box appears around it.

Kaitlyn McConnell

Kaitlyn McConnell is the founder of Ozarks Alive, a cultural preservation project through which she has documented the region’s people, places and defining features since 2015. McConnell regularly shares her stories with readers of the Springfield Daily Citizen. Contact her at: More by Kaitlyn McConnell