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‘Every conversation feels like it may be the last’: Tuscarawas County Ukrainian exchange student shares her story

Published: Mar. 1, 2022 at 10:50 PM EST
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TUSCARAWAS COUNTY, Ohio (WOIO) - A Tuscarawas County hair salon is collecting monetary donations to help the people fighting for their lives in Ukraine, but for this particular business, the tragedy overseas hits even closer to home.

The owner is hosting an international high school student from Ukraine.

It’s hard to imagine what 17-year-old international exchange student Anastasia Didenko feels like.

She’s in Tuscarawas County but her family is oceans away fighting to survive. Her host mom’s salon, Lock 7 Hair Studio in Bolivar is collecting these items to help, but with her family in a war zone, the teen still feels helpless.

“Every conversation it feels like it may be the last conversation with them,” said Didenko. “Every I love you it feels different right now and instead of a good morning text, you get, “Hi I’m alive, we survived the night.”

Didenko came to Northeast Ohio as an international student for new opportunities, new friends, and new adventures, but she never imagined that less than six months after she left her home in Ukraine that her family and friends would be making Molotov cocktails and hiding in basements to survive bombings.

“They have to be in a bomb shelter all of the time and there is no food in the stores and even though they have money they can’t go out and buy food,” explained Didenko. “They don’t have anything left to eat. Nothing really matters right now, how much money you have, where do you live, what car you drive, nothing matters right now.”

Didenko is a junior at Tuscarawas Central Catholic. She is in touch with her mother, father, and 12-year-old sister and for now, they are safe.

“I can’t really sleep,” the teen admitted. “I wake up every 20 minutes just to check on them. I’m so happy that we still have connection and internet.”

On Tuesday she learned that her dad is joining the Ukrainian army.

“That’s what I was scared of the most because families throughout Ukraine they’re being just torn apart right now because women with kids they’re trying to leave, it’s not possible everywhere,” Didenko said.

“For my family, it’s not possible they can’t leave right now, and it is just too dangerous to move. Right now he’s very scared for us too and he wants us to be safe and he wants our country to be free and we know how much our independence costs and we will not let anyone take it over I’m sure and he knows it.”

She believes her classmates are safe too, but instead of focusing on things like high school dances and football, they are going into battle.

“Some of my classmates they have to take guns and go and protect their families just people my age,” Didenko said.

Her host mom Heather Jones wants to do everything she can to help Didenko.

“You feel helpless,” said Jones. “I don’t know what to do to help her. I’m just here to listen. I can’t do anything I feel like.”

Didenko says even if she has no home to go back to, she wants to go to Ukraine and be with her family as soon as possible.

“Everything is already destroyed, and you know I don’t care how bad it will be,” Didenko said through tears. “I don’t care if it will not, I just hope that my family will be fine and that they will be alive, and I really want to go back home no matter what. I don’t care I just want to be with them to know that everything is fine.”

The teen’s classmates and teachers are helping too. The school raised $1,400 with proceeds going to help the people in Ukraine. If you want to donate, contact the salon or the school.

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