Ukrainian love story: Philadelphia man ‘can’t sleep’ while his wife is in Kyiv
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In the six days since East Falls resident Sean Moir shared news of his wife Valentyna Levytsky and the harrowing conditions she faced caring for her mother in the capital Ukraine from Kiev, the Russian invasion of that country has not stopped.
Due to his mother’s fragile health, Levytsky initially resisted running away. But last week, Moir had a candid discussion with a friend about the prospects for his safety.
“This conversation scared me,” he said, especially as news reports began to focus on the encirclement of Kiev. He spoke to Levytsky by phone the next morning. “His brother’s wife in Lviv had also called with the same message: Get out now.”
On March 3, the siblings prepared to pick up their sick mother and set off, charting a 200-mile course.
That same night, halfway around the world in Philadelphia, Moir thawed some borscht Levytsky had made before heading overseas and invited some friends to break bread. Beetroot soup, one of Ukraine’s national dishes, was shared with prayers and hope for the crucial times ahead. “It was almost like a sacrament,” Moir said.
At dawn on March 4, the Levytsky family – Valentyna with her mother, brother and cat – took a few essentials, piled them into their car and left Kyiv, bound for a small town in western Ukraine near the city of Rivne.
In pre-war times, this trip could be accomplished in just a few hours on a single tank of gas, according to Moir. This Friday morning, the direct route was blocked by the Russian army. Members of the Ukrainian army were instead ordering people to go south.
“We found out later that civilians had indeed been killed on this road, so we owe a debt of gratitude to the brave soldiers at the roadblocks,” Moir said.
Levytsky and co. were diverted from the highway in Zhytomyr, named after a town near Kiev that has faced increased shelling over the past week, according to Al Jazeera.
As they traveled, Moir tracked their progress, marking the regular southward movements on geotagged devices when telephone service was cut off. “Usually I sleep at midnight… But that night there was no sleep,” Moir said.
The southward redirection meant the group had to refill their tank nine hours into the journey. After finding a crowded gas station that had fuel for sale, they drove the last six hours to Rivne and were lucky enough to spend a quiet night there with the family.
The next morning, after saying goodbye to their cat at a nearby farm, the Levytskys moved in with Valentyna’s brother in Lviv, a relatively safe town 60 miles from the Polish border. There, the siblings tend to their mother in what they have acknowledged to be her final days, layering personal tragedies with national tragedies.
The joy of reaching their destination safely has raised hopes, but they are still planning ahead, sketching out additional escape routes in case they are needed. “If there is any sign of deteriorating security in Lviv, it will be time to get out,” Moir said.
Watching his wife’s progress around the world was nerve-wracking, he said, but “the one thing I haven’t felt in the past few days is loneliness”.
Due to the high-profile situation, Moir has been in contact with all kinds of people, including some he hasn’t spoken to in 20 years. He said people in high school were reaching out, asking, “Hey, what’s going on?”
Between the successful journey from central to western Ukraine and the tangible support of his friends and family, he feels a little more at ease and grateful that his loved ones did not face the worst of the young war.
Said Moir: “We still hope for a happy ending for the country. »
Original story, March 2:
Sean Moir lives in East Falls, but his heart is in Kiev. Moir’s wife, Valentyna Levytsky, is in the Ukrainian capital. which has suffered many waves of attacks since the start of the Russian invasion.
The couple, who married at St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery in Ukraine last June, traveled to the country in January to celebrate Orthodox Christmas. Levytsky stayed behind to care for her mother, who had fallen ill with late-stage Parkinson’s disease. Then their world changed.
Jumping into a car to flee was not an option Levytsky considered. “She thought her mother wouldn’t survive such a trip,” Moir told Billy Penn.
Levytsky was born in western Ukraine and spent most of her life in Kyiv before moving to Philadelphia and meeting Moir. She works for Le Doyen Studio, remotely dubbing films in English into Ukrainian.
Moir, who works at a computer consulting firm, says her job has been a welcome distraction, at least when it comes to passing the time during the day. At night it’s another story.
“[The] the sun rises there around midnight, our time. So when all this happens at night, and the bombs drop, and I can’t sleep until she gets up in the morning. Ukrainian dawn.
Although everything changed in less than a week, Moir says a degree of normality has remained intact in recent days.
“She’s been out grocery shopping for the past two days, and she sent me pictures of the grocery store and she was well stocked with fruits and vegetables, meat and bread,” he said. “I mean, it’s almost like nothing happened until you come out and see all the military stuff.”
Amid the chaos, Levytsky was still confident enough to go out and have coffee at a cafe yesterday morning.
The full weight of the assault probably has not yet reached the city, as a Russian military convoy approached Kiev from the west. As the facts on the ground are constantly changing, Moir and Levytsky keep in touch via Skype and Facebook Messenger.
“We sent messages all day and all night. So that was one of the few blessings of it all,” Moir said. “But the situation is deteriorating hour by hour, so I don’t know how long we will have that luxury.”
Moir still feels a pervasive sense of helplessness as he believes it would take a “military-grade medical evacuation” to transport his loved ones to safety.
He attended a rally for Ukraine at the Art Museum a few weeks ago and attended services at the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia last weekend.
“I know there are people marching in the streets, and I appreciate that,” Moir said. “It is very important to put pressure on the political side. But I think it’s almost equally important to express our concerns in prayer.
He hopes to remind people that “this isn’t just something on TV, this is a real event, it happens to real people, real people you might even know”.
As for Levytsky, she had a specific message, delivered by text message:
“Tell them that Ukraine will never give up. You can’t negotiate with terrorists. Don’t believe a word that comes out of Putin’s dirty mouth. And if you watch and keep silent,” Levytsky said, “tomorrow they will come and get you”.