Uprooted

SBHS students from Ukraine experience many drastic changes throughout a short period of time leading them to brand-new opportunities here at South Broward High School.

Student%2C+Sophomore+Sofia+Plastunova+enjoys+her+last+time+hanging+out+with+her+Ukrainian+friends+at+their+local+fair.

Photo courtsey of Sofia Plastunova

Student, Sophomore Sofia Plastunova enjoys her last time hanging out with her Ukrainian friends at their local fair.

Angie Jaramillo, Editor

It was a normal Monday morning. South Broward High senior Oleg Grechka had just hit the snooze button on his alarm and rolled over to get those last few minutes of sleep, when he was suddenly startled by a gentle tapping on his bedroom door. It cracked open and his grandmother stuck her head into his room. 

“Good morning, there is war in Ukraine and then she shuts the door,” said Grechka.

The announcement wasn’t a shock to Grechka. After all, he had left Ukraine when he was 14, when tension between Russia and Ukraine had escalated. His family loaded him on a plane, solo, to live with an uncle in New Jersey. 

And, he’s not the only one. Since the war started, there have been an increase of students from Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, Kazakhstan, etc. at SBHS– Grechka would know. He is constantly being called to guidance whenever a new student from one of those countries arrives. 

He says he “can’t even count” the number of times he has been asked to translate. 

And it’s no wonder, SBHS sits just 22 miles north of Sunny Isles Beach aka “Little Moscow,” a haven for refugees from the old soviet union and Russians and Ukrainians here on tourist visas. 

Although SBHS’s guidance office isn’t keeping an official tally, the school has matriculated at least four new students from Ukraine and surrounding countries in the fourth quarter. Three of them came after the war started.

Despite the fact that they speak various languages they usually have Russian as a common language. Something else they have in common? A fear of Russian dominance of their country. 

That’s how it is for SBHS sophomore, Sophia Plastunova, 16. In January, as Russian troops lined up along the border of Ukraine, Plastunova and her family became fearful. She was always planning on going to the U.S, but not like this.

“Honestly, I didn’t believe war would start,” she said. 

It all happened very quickly for Plastunova and her mother. With no official plan, it took them seven days to prepare immigration documents, school documents, and various essential belongings to choose from.

“It was really hard to choose what to take. My home was in Ukraine; all of my hobbies, friends, and my family,” said Plastunova. “Everything was in Ukraine and I left everything and took just one suitcase.”

After an emotional tug of war between love for Ukraine and seeking refuge, she and her mother took a one-way plane ride to Mexico. They stayed for seven days in a hotel to gather paperwork, then drove to the border to ask for political asylum, which is a protection offered by another nation to someone who left their country for political reasons. After 17 hours, they were approved and eventually made their way to Hollywood, Florida. Now, she is living with her older sister and husband, crammed with her mother, nieces and nephews. In spite of the fact, she’s safe, she doesn’t feel good about it.

“I didn’t feel happy[arriving in the United States.] I feel guilt because I am in safety and my friends and family are in Ukraine,” said Plastunova. 

Two weeks after Plastunova and her mother settled in Florida, on February 24, Russia invaded Ukraine. The moment she heard the news her heart sank, and she worried for her father, who stayed behind.

“My dad in Ukraine helps with the defense of his city. He lives in Bureso which is really next to Kyiv,” said Plastunova.”I am worried about him so much, but he says everything is fine.”

Like Plastunova’s father, Grechka’s grandfather has also stayed in Ukraine, guarding his home. 

“They did not want to[flee]. My grandfather went down stairs and he was like (loading gun sound effect) ‘I’m going to protect our house!,’’ said Grechka. 

Even in May, this war seems never-ending for Plastunova and Gretchka. They are always on edge for any news they receive about their distant family or neighboring cities. They can only hope for justice for Ukraine. 

“Thanks to God and my family, my mother and I are safe, but my heart beats in rhythm with everyone who is in Ukraine,” said Platunova.