‘I’m done crying, I’m just angry’

Ron Burtz

While saying she is sad about the loss of innocent lives in Russia’s invasion of her homeland, Ukrainian Yulia Yehle of Custer says her overwhelming emotion related to the situation is simply anger.
“I’m done crying,” said Yehle last week. “I’m just angry! I want to punish them. I want to kick them out of my land.”
Sitting down for an interview in the dining room of the Purple Pie Place which she owns with her husband, Bobby, Yehle said she, like most native Ukrainians, is furious at Russian president Vladimir Putin’s aggression toward Ukraine since the invasion started. At the same time, however, there is sadness caused by the alarming number of innocent civilians being caught in the crossfire.
“I don’t know if I’ll talk to my mom tomorrow or my sister or my aunt or anyone I know,” said Yehle. “I do not know if it’s my last call with them. I do not know. They have killed so many civilians by now. I don’t know if they’re gonna be alive tomorrow, so that’s the saddest part.”
While saying she pays attention to the news and social media reports coming out of Ukraine, Yehle said she tries to verify everything she hears with relatives and friends who are actually on the ground in the country.
When asked how often she talks to people in Ukraine, she replied, “Every single day. Every couple hours.”
Yehle said she has relatives and friends in every part of the country, including former classmates who are serving in the military and in the “Territorial Defense” groups.  
One of her aunts is an emergency nurse who lives south of Kiev. Yehle said she had recently worked 10 days in a row stitching up people who had been injured by bombs and bullets. She said many civilians came in suffering from shrapnel wounds.
“One of them was a little boy with no arm,” reported Yehle. “She said ‘my blood was just boiling inside me.’”
The list of those treated even included a Russian soldier, but even as she followed her Hippocratic Oath to do no harm, “she was making him say ‘Glory to Ukraine.’”
She said her parents have also reported fighting right outside the city where she grew up and that 30 Russian tanks were spotted nearby.
She has also spoken with a friend whose husband works in Poland. He urged his wife to get out of the country so she loaded their child in her car and headed for the Polish border. Another friend who lives in a town near Kiev also took her baby and went to Poland but had to leave her husband behind, because men of fighting age are not allowed to leave.
She said the military is encouraging many people to evacuate because it’s easier to defend areas unoccupied by civilians.
In addition to her daily reports from those still in the country, Yehle has recent experience in Ukraine to draw on as well.
In January she went home for a three-week visit for the first time in four years, much to the consternation of her husband and family in the States. While there she spent 10 days with her parents who live in the city of Kherson, which is located along the Dneiper River near the Black Sea, and is also right next to the Russian controlled Crimean Peninsula. She also spent a week with her sister in another part of the country.
Putin was threatening an invasion at that point but, saying there are many ways to leave Ukraine, Yehle refused to let the Russian leader’s saber rattling cut her visit short.   
“I’m not running right now,” she told her family back in the U.S. “I’m here for only three weeks. I haven’t been home for four years. I’m not leaving.”
“Honestly, if I would be trained right now to fight, I would be fighting with them right now,” she said. “The way I’ve been raised, the way our history is, we were always taught and we were always fighting for our freedom. Since childhood we know that it’s OK to fight.”
Yehle, who is 26, was born Yulia Zhukovska shortly after the dissolution of the Soviet Republic in 1991. She said even though her surname is Russian from her great-great-grandfather she’s “100 percent Ukrainian.”
She came to the United States seven years ago as a J1 student worker at the Purple Pie Place and met Bobby, who worked next door. She stayed on with a tourist visa and the couple has been married for six years. They bought the pie and ice cream shop from his parents last year.
When asked her opinion of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Yehle was positive.
“He’s the first young president in my lifetime,” said Yehle, noting the president is well educated and “super smart.”
She believes he has brought about many positive changes, not the least of which was preparing the Ukrainian military to fight.
“He knew it was gonna happen one day,” she said of the invasion.
Yehle said the government didn’t advertise the buildup, however, which she believes surprised the Russians.
“They didn’t expect that level of resistance,” she said.
Speaking of resistance, Yehle said it is deep and broad, taking in everyone from members of the military and paramilitary groups to gangs of criminals, bands of Gypsies and even the elderly.
“Down to civilians. Down to grandma who barely walks, everybody’s ready to fight,” said Yehle. “Nobody’s gonna let them in.”
While she never lived under communism herself, Yehle has strong opinions about the system of government and does not share the positive attitude toward it held by many young Americans in her generation.
“It’s not gonna work,” she said. “All those people who support this idea, they’re not gonna like it as soon as they experience it. It doesn’t matter how hard your gonna work, you’re gonna get what everybody else gets and sometimes you’re not even gonna get anything, but you’re gonna pay.”  
Yehle and the Ukrainian people have an ally in Custer High School foreign exchange student Adela Marakova. The Czech Republic senior, who has been studying here since August, said “The situation in Ukraine is very, very sad from my point of view.”
Marakova said she couldn’t believe what she was hearing when the news began to emerge about the invasion.
“It is so close to my country and if we would be still Czechoslovakia we would have a border with Ukraine,” she said. “I love to see how people are trying to help. People in the Czech Republic started to collect money for money donations to Ukraine. This donation is the biggest one that Czech people ever made it is more than 1.5 billion Czech crowns.”
She said the donations go far beyond money as the Czech people are donating food and clothing and even opening up their homes to refugees.
“They offer their rooms in their homes to people from Ukraine,” she said, “and those people can stay with them before they’ll find something for themselves. Those are things which I like to see next to all bad news how people die.”
Yehle said she believes Putin will fail in the end because of the resolve and fighting spirit of the Ukrainian people.
“We’re unbreakable,” she said

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