By Christina Feerick
Ukraine may be thousands of miles away from Wytheville, Virginia — but it’s as close as a FaceTime call to family struggling to survive a war. Yana Blevins is an assistant teacher at Minnick Wytheville Adapted School who grew up in Russia, traveled to the U.S. as a college student, married a Virginian, and has settled with her husband and son in southwest Virginia. "It’s my new home now," she said.
But Yana’s extended family remains in Russia and Ukraine – and as the bombings continue, so do her desperate prayers. "I still can’t believe it’s happening — it’s surreal. The majority of Russians don’t support the war because they have family ties to Ukraine. Russians and Ukrainians have always been friends. We’re like a big family."
After three years with enCircle, she’s now dedicated to bridging the gap — letting people know the war in Ukraine isn’t "over there" — it’s right here, in our own backyard. "I check on my family every day to make sure they’re ok. I hate that I can’t do anything about it. I’ve offered to transfer some money, but they say they have enough food their houses are fine. But of course, other people are not so fortunate. We’ve been praying a lot. It’s hard, it’s very hard." While her prayers continue halfway around the world, she is mindful of her own blessings here at home. "Praise God for another day, for peace, and for everything you have."
More than 2.5 million people have fled Ukraine, but Blevins’ family has decided to stay put. Her cousin lives in Kharkiv and confides that even though he could hear gunfire and shelling constantly, he’s unwilling to abandon his home. "They didn’t believe the intentions of Russia to invade. They thought everything was going to be fine and there would be a political solution to the problem. They expect part of the city to be leveled but refuse to leave. They will still hold their ground, no matter what."
Principal Derrick Spence recently shared Yana’s story and said unity is a message he often emphasizes with Minnick educational staff — and Yana’s family’s story is a perfect example. "Whether it’s someone who looks different than us or thinks different than us, whatever it may be, we’re all connected. At the end of the day, what happens in one part of the world will affect all parts of the world."
Yana couldn’t agree more and is grateful for the support of her enCircle coworkers. "I am very blessed. Keep thinking about us and praying for us. That’s all you can do. I believe in the power of prayer, that God can handle anything that it will turn for the better."
Spence said, "As we follow the horrible events unfolding, let's remember that Ukraine is as close to us as Yana, right here in Minnick School Building #10."