Vlada Trofimchuk has been glued to her phone for the past week as her home country is invaded, shelled and bombed.

In class, walking across campus at Colby College in Waterville or sitting in her dorm room, she can’t help but think about her parents in Sumy, Ukraine.

The Colby student can’t help but refresh the news apps on her phone or from ignoring the constant alerts of air raids she set up on her phone to keep track of what’s going on where her family is.

Vlada Trofimchuk, a third-year student at Colby College in Waterville, is from Sumy, Ukraine. Photo courtesy of Vlada Trofimchuk

Constantly checking in on her family as they take refuge in a bunker and on the developing scope of the situation has become her daily reality, while the world around her on campus carries on.

“I have to remind myself, people aren’t doing anything wrong — they are living their lives,” she said of her fellow students. “I understand, their world isn’t falling apart. They are going to be happy, they are going to be going out, drinking … I have to remind myself, if they are talking about going skiing next week, it’s not because they don’t care, they grew up here.”

Trofimchuk, 22, is among the few Maine students from Ukraine, coming to grips with the escalating invasion of their homeland that has mobilized Western nations to impose crippling economic sanctions on Russia and raised fears of a war spilling over into greater Europe.


Danylo Shuvalov, 23, another student from Ukraine, is a fourth-year student in Bar Harbor at the College of the Atlantic. He studied for a year in Italy before coming to Maine. Both Trofimchuk and Shuvalov came here through the Davis United World College Scholars Program and, while they do not know each personally, they’ve connected online with the small network of Ukranian students elsewhere in New England.

“It’s strange being here right now because it’s kind of difficult to reconcile the two completely different worlds,” Shuvalov said. “One that I see, and the other, not only I see, but also live through on my screen, on my phone. I’m on my phone so much right now.”

Trofimchuk’s hometown of Sumy is located in the northeast region of Ukraine, about 30 miles from the Russian border. Since the invasion started, her parents and 10-year-old brother moved in with her grandparents who live within the same area, but in a different neighborhood. The move allows them all to be together, but also keeps them in close proximity to the bomb shelter in her grandparents’ neighborhood.

They do not yet have plans to leave Ukraine, Trofimchuk said.

“The fact that I grew up there … they have jobs; their home is there. They don’t want to leave,” she said. “It’s their home.”

From 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., her family has a curfew where they cannot be outside. They are instructed to turn every light off. Her mother is a hematologist and still goes to work since she is a medical professional, but those in most other occupations and students, like her brother, are instructed to stay home.


Trofimchuk said the only exception to the curfew, besides being a Ukrainian soldier, would be if there is an air raid, which they are alerted to by sirens or alerts on their phones.

During an hourlong interview this past week, Trofimchuk received news on her phone of 15 air raid alerts over Sumy.

“There might be sirens, but you can’t always hear them,” she said. “Sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t. Some decide to go, some stay put … sometimes they said it’s the end of the air raid, sometimes they don’t, so it’s up to you when you want to come out.”

Food and money insecurity are beginning to be an issue for her family, she said. A neighbor gave them a few live chickens that her grandmother prepared to eat. Trofimchuk said she is starting to think about the possibility of her having to send money to her parents.

She is a third-year college student at Colby College and studies phycology and German. Before Colby, she did a year at a university in Germany before getting a scholarship to study in the United States.

Trofimchuk is one of only two Ukrainian students studying at Colby, though the other is currently abroad in London. Trofimchuk’s roommates are from India and Turkey, and together with another friend, Judy, they have been a good support system for her.


“I’m the one checking the news all the time. I feel guilty if I smile or laugh, and people back home, I’m sure they smile and laugh, too, but they’re worse off than I am,” she said. “It’s a work in progress.”

Danylo Shuvalov, a fourth-year student at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, is from Kyiv, Ukraine. Photo courtesy of Danylo Shuvalov

Shuvalov, the College of the Atlantic student, said his parents live separately in Kyiv, the capitol that’s been under heavy missile attacks this past week. His 27-year-old brother lives in Odessa. They do not plan on leaving at this time and are staying put and not going to work, he said. His brother and father did not need to enlist in the army because of the number of volunteers who already stepped up in the country.

Shuvalov has been glued to his phone and constantly sends updates to his parents when he gets them — sometimes even before they do because of the time difference. When he calls his parents — either through his phone, Facebook messenger, or other related apps — he often can hear missiles and air raid alarms in the background.

Shuvalov visited his parents back in December for two weeks and said, even then, he was worried about an invasion from Russia.

Around 250 people gathered Wednesday in Bar Harbor to show their support for Ukraine. Photo courtesy of Sofia Dragoti

Shuvalov said it’s been difficult for him to pay attention to his studies when he is looking out for the well-being of his parents and staying on top of the latest news. He encourages people to report the propaganda or misinformation when they recognize it because “misinformation is a matter of life or death, not just information,” for the people in Ukraine.

Shuvalov attended a rally in solidarity with Ukraine in Bar Harbor this week and encourages others to find one near them if they would like to get involved. Other ways to get involved, he said, are through donating to Ukrainian need-based organizations and made a list of places to do so.

But right now, he is trying to cope with the reality of what’s going on, despite being so far away.

“It’s impossible to imagine, or feel how it feels,” he said. “When I put down my screen and not on the phone with my parents, it starts to feel like everything is OK. It’s very difficult to actually imagine — I don’t know if it should be a source of guilt, but something to acknowledge.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.