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One degree of separation

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A pre-invasion view of Old Town Odessa, Ukraine and the view from Maryna Kabak's favorite coffee shop “Coffeetory.” PHOTO COURTESY OF MARYNA KABAK

Big Sky’s link to the Ukrainian conflict 

By Jana Bounds EBS CONTRIBUTOR

MOLDOVA – Globalization minimizes our degrees of separation from the faraway joys of humanity. This is particularly so in tourism-driven communities like Big Sky, where the J-1 Visa workers who support the local workforce bring with them global knowledge and personal stories.

This was true for Alexandru Melnic, a Moldova citizen and J-1 Visa worker at Moonlight Basin and By Word of Mouth. During his time in Big Sky, Melnic shared tales of Moldovan traditions and introduced colleagues to Moldovan rock music.

Globalization also brings us nearer to foreign horrors, like Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine and the violence that’s followed. This is another thing Melnic is sharing with the Big Sky community.

Maryna Kabak, a friend of Melnic’s, lives in Ukraine and has extended her voice across the globe to share her story.  

“We passed from the stage of shock and uncontrolled anger and hate to a stage of constant grief,” Kabak wrote on Facebook Messenger weeks after constant bombardment. “We just want peace, to stop this war, to kick out the enemy from our territory and return to our homes.” 

Kabak’s entire perception of happiness shifted. She and her friends are feeling nostalgic about normalcy: craving it, remembering it and clinging to experiences of routine whenever possible. 

“We started to appreciate our lives more,” she wrote. “For example my friend in Kyiv is just happy when she has a few calm minutes to drink coffee in her kitchen, in pauses between bombings and hiding in shelter.”

Shock and panic

Maryna Kabak and her husband Edoardo Scocciolini had just received their wedding photos and shared them with family and friends on Facebook, when five days later, they awoke to missile strikes. Now, Maryna’s Facebook includes a post on how to support the Ukrainian army “our defenders and true heroes” via an “official confirmed by government charity fund.” PHOTO COURTESY OF MARYNA KABAK

Kabak and her husband Edoardo Scocciolini woke in Odessa, Ukraine on Feb. 24 at 5 a.m. to what they thought were fireworks, but the explosions intensified, she explained.

She turned to Facebook and saw a post from a friend in Kyiv: “Do you hear these explosions too?” She then saw comments from people in different cities. Blasts were taking place all over the country. 

“I realized that Russia started the war. My sister that lives in Kyiv called me crying asking what to do,” she wrote. 

There was a statement from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky implementing a military condition. While aware of the threat, few believed the invasion would actually happen. All of it was unexpected. 

“People started to panic,” Kabak wrote. There was big traffic. Since that day, my heart is bleeding for my family, relatives, friends and all Ukrainians.” 

While Kabak and her husband headed to the Moldovan border, her cousin went to a Ukrainian military base and her cousin’s husband began fighting Russian invaders in the streets. With the country in turmoil, they had to place their two children in a shelter—alone. 

These are the kinds of sacrifices that are being made in Ukraine minute-by-minute. 

Kabak’s ​​vicissitude from normal life to war is evident on her Facebook page, which transitioned within a week from blissful wedding photos to prayers from friends, videos of missile strikes, and posts about Ukrainian solidarity. 

“[The] wedding and that joy now isn’t important at all,” she wrote. “For me the biggest joy of my life would be that they announce our victory in this war, that we defeated the evil and can return to our home.” 

‘This is a test for us all’

Alexandru Melnic is a Moldovan citizen who was a J-1 Visa worker at Moonlight Basin in 2017. He loves Big Sky and hopes to come back someday, but for now he studies law in Europe and worries about his friends in Ukraine. PHOTO COURTESY OF ALEXANDRU MELNIC

Melnic is currently studying European legal affairs for his master’s degree in Belgium but will return to Moldova this summer. 

“Moldova should be worried about the situation in Ukraine,” Melnic said, “and the whole world should be. This is a test for all of us. Putin will continue to push boundaries to see how far he can go.” 

Many of his friends, including Kabak, are from Kyiv and Odessa in Ukraine. Most have fled cities and are now part of the drove of displaced civilians. Moldova is, “for now” safe, he wrote, and hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian asylum seekers have either stayed in Moldova or used it as a transit zone to other European countries. 

Melnic stresses his country’s tenuous grasp of stability and safety, and that he believes the fate of Moldova, Europe and the rest of the world hangs in the balance. 

“If hypothetically speaking, [Putin] manages to [take over] Ukraine, the next target is Moldova,” he wrote over Facebook Messenger.

Moldova is a small nation only slightly larger than Maryland, situated between Ukraine to the north and east and Romania to the west. At just under 34,000 square kilometers, it’s about 290 times smaller than the U.S. 

Moldova functioned as a chess piece between Romania and Russia during World War II, when after an ultimatum, Romania relinquished the country to Russia. 

As far as recent history goes, Ukraine and Moldova are deeply intertwined. Both were under Soviet control until 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed and small Eastern European nations gained the opportunity for independence. 

Long before the attack, on August 24, 2021, Kabak’s Italian husband Edoardo Scocciolini posted about Ukraine’s Independence Day, a celebration of 30 years of freedom from Russia: 

“From the very first moment I came here I saw a country full of problems and contradictions yet constantly willing to grow, to improve and open its doors to the world. I found countless resilient people with a lot of dignity.” 

Melnic was born and raised in northeastern Moldova, close to the Ukrainian border. Sunday Market in his hometown included many Ukrainian farmers and artisans who came to trade. 

He has worked on projects with Ukrainian nationals and took part in one project in Lviv, Ukraine, where Russian missile strikes have hit.

 Ukrainian sacrifice 

Kabak wrote that she feels a high level of disbelief of what is happening in her country.

“[It is] shocking to see families that try to evacuate through humanitarian corridors, but get shot by Russians. Shocking to see how authorities in blocked cities have to bury the dead in mass graves, because there are constant shootings,” she wrote, emphasizing the bombings of schools, children’s hospitals and maternity hospitals. 

“All this war is atrocity. You can see it from the photos and videos,” she wrote. “Ukraine is the only victim here and Ukrainians absolutely don’t deserve these attacks from Russia, our country is democratic and here are no signs of nazi. We lived our good peaceful life before invasion [from] Russia.”

Although grateful that much of the world is speaking out in support of Ukraine, Kabak said her countrymen really need “more actions from Western leaders, more sanctions toward Russia, more concrete and practical help to Ukraine.” 

As attacks on the Ukrainian populace intensify, Kabak wrote that it almost seems the West “is ready to sacrifice Ukrainians” for insulation from Russian attacks of their own countries and for economic self-preservation. 

Russia is threatening the whole world, she wrote, and can just as easily unexpectedly attack other countries without provocation. 

“Of course people get tired of news, some prefer to forget, but our fight is still going, the war isn’t over. People are dying. It’s important to speak,” Kabak wrote. “We hope and pray for peace.” 

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