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Sofia’s Choice: A Ukrainian Diary

In times of war, one of the most painful decisions people face is whether to leave; to abandon their homes, possessions, memories, sometimes leaving loved ones behind. Close to 4 million people have left Ukraine over the last month.

Sofia Bretl is 33 and has lived in New York City for over a decade, but she was born and raised in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, about 25 miles from the Russian border. Kharkiv has experienced some of the worst shelling since the start of the war. That’s where Sofia’s mother and great-aunt still live.

Sofia’s mother, Vita Linnik, is 55. Before the war, Vita cared for her 92-year-old aunt, Vanya, who lives on the other side of the city. Vanya has had a mental disability most of her life and over the last year, she’s grown physically weaker, now unable to walk on her own. When Russian forces began their assault on the city, it became too dangerous for Vita to travel across town to visit her aunt, but Vanya’s neighbor — a retired home health aide — agreed to continue watching over her. As shelling grew worse, Vita was faced with a difficult choice.

Today on the podcast, Sofia shares that story.

A full transcript of this episode is available here. 

Update: Shortly after this story aired, Sofia’s great-aunt, Vanya Guseba, passed away at her care facility in Kharkiv. She was 92 years old.

If you’d like to show your support during this crisis, one organization that is helping resettle refugees is HIAS. You can learn more about how to support at hias.org. Music in today’s episode from Ukrainian bands Dakha Brakha and Dakh Daughters, both based out of Ukraine and have made it out of the country.

Special thanks to Sofia Bretl and Vita Linnik for sharing their story. 

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