“I’m here safe and sound in Boston while they have to flee their home to find safety somewhere else”
Like many college students, Diana Zlotnikova wakes up and checks the news first thing in the morning. But unlike other college students, she immediately calls her family back home to see how the news is impacting them.
As the phone rings, she does not know whether her call will be answered.
Zlotnikova is a senior at Northeastern University studying finance. She left her native Ukraine when she was 16 years old to study in England, and moved to Boston four years ago. Currently, her parents and two-year-old sister are displaced and unable to leave the country because of the ongoing Russian war against her homeland.
“Everyone has a home. Everyone has some place they call home,” Zlotnikova said in an interview. “For most of the Ukrainian community, the whole meaning of home and the place that we call home is being completely erased.”
She is unsure whether her childhood home still exists. Zlotnikova’s house stood in Kyiv, a heated combat center in the war. Soldiers advised her family to leave.
Zlotnikova recently helped organize the peace march on Boston Common on Feb. 27 with the goal of creating “a safe space to express their feelings, to not be alone,” for the Ukrainian community.
“Because when you are alone, you’re just watching the news 24/7. You’re stuck to your phone following every single piece of information you can find,” she said.
Since the war began, Zlotnikova has spent most of her time organizing charities and events.
“At this point, my time is fully dedicated to the cause of spreading awareness about what’s happening in Ukraine and making sure that the people who need help are getting help,” she said.
Soon, she plans to host a panel at Northeastern or another university in Boston to raise money “for those who need it in Ukraine.”
“I found passion in helping my country [and] helping those in need,” Zlotnikova said. “This is something that keeps me going every day. It’s really helping me get on with my life and try to not think about what’s happening back home for one minute.”
Among her fears, Zlotnikova does not want to see the war, like the pandemic, become a “new normal.”
“I feel like the biggest fear for most of us is that a couple of weeks will go by, and this tragedy that’s happening to all of us and to Eastern Europe will be forgotten,” she said. “That’s the way news works, that’s the way tragedies work-there’s always something new to worry about, something new to focus on.”
When that time of day comes when all the work is done and all the news is read, she sits on her bed wondering what else she can do.
“Sometimes it does break, but I know that I need to be strong for my parents because what they’re going through is a thousand times worse than what I’m going through,” she said. “I’m here safe and sound in Boston while they have to flee their home to find safety somewhere else.”
Most events are happening late night to early morning because of the time difference. That’s the time she should be missing because she is asleep—in theory.
“You just wake up in the middle of the night and you need to check the news,” Zlotnikova said.
If her sister was a bit older, her parents would “do anything on earth” to make sure she is out of the country and somewhere safe. Unfortunately, she is too young to be apart from them. As a result, Zlotnikova worries about how the war is affecting her sibling as she sees the fear and panic in the faces she would normally look to for comfort.
“I really hope she’s not gonna remember any of it,” she said.
Zlotnikova continued, “Yesterday, we were all children who can always go home to our parents and ask them, What should we do?” But now, for all those who have families in Ukraine, now we become the adults.”
“We all hope that this is going to end as soon as possible and we can all just go back home to our parents and our families and our houses and hope that it’s going to be like it never happened.
“Unfortunately it’s a hope; we all know that whatever happened just changed all of us forever.”