West Students Impacted by Ukrainian War

Morgan and Brooke Bicknell with their birth mother in Ukraine. Photo courtesy of Brooke Bicknell.

Caroline True

Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, an event that hit close to home for some West students. Seniors Morgan and Brooke Bicknell, twins from Ukraine, said they were adopted at 15 months old and still feel the connection to their birth country. 

“The invasion is all I can really think about. It’s not avoidable either, because we talk about it in school, all over the news, even at my work they talk about it. One of the worst parts about it is not knowing whether my family is alive or not. Every conversation that I have with my family over there, I never know if it will be the last. Even before the invasion, my birth mother had said she heard bombs from her house often,” Morgan Bicknell said. The invasion came after years of turmoil between the two countries and aggression from Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

Debate teacher Matt Good said, “I think we have a clear case of something that Valdamir Putin has not been particularly secretive about and that is a desire to have something resembling the former Soviet Union when it comes to Russian influence. And so I genuinely believe that he has a feeling that Ukraine rightly belongs with Russia, and at this point has decided that force is the best way to do it.” With recent bombing and shelling attacks, around 2,870 Ukrainians have died, according to CNN. 

 Morgan said their family in Ukraine had taken steps to protect themselves from the dangers battle brings. “Just recently they had put sandbags to close the windows from the explosions. I wish that my family could just escape from there, but it is not easy. Ukraine is a corrupt and somewhat poor country, especially in the areas of conflict,” Morgan said. 

Brooke Bicknell said the invasion has brought up intense emotions, “Russia invading Ukraine really only affects me emotionally, it just makes me feel helpless for my family over there. I imagine what it would be like if I was never adopted. Me and Morgan were born in the city Lugansk (also spelled Luhansk), which is on the eastern side of Ukraine, very close to Russia. My family members live there and they said they could hear the shooting. I am just very worried for them,” Brooke said. 

“As of now, [Feb. 24] they are in their basements with family and friends. The internet goes down at times, and it is very scary because you just don’t know what is happening, and especially with the language barrier some things don’t make sense or translate correctly, and it can be frustrating. My birth mom hasn’t responded or been on Facebook messenger in nine hours. I am just very worried.”

The Bicknell twins’ birth family is from Ukraine, but is now living in Poland, Russian controlled parts of Ukraine, and Russia itself. When they had the most recent opportunity to visit Ukraine, they met their birth mother, aunt, and cousin.

Recently President Joe Biden, along with many other world leaders, put sanctions on Russia, one of them including freezing Russian banks in other countries, according to Fox News. “Putin’s own business people, wealthy members of his economy are not benefiting from this invasion, in fact if anything the sanctions are making their lives much more difficult, and he is still hell bent on Russia controlling Ukraine,” Good said. 

With protests now going on in Moscow, Russian citizens are protesting their own government. More than 2,114 protesters were arrested for demanding no war. They don’t want war, just peace, according to Fox News. 

“I think it is really important that people know that by no means is this everyone in Russia, there is a lot of dissent and protests in a country where it’s more difficult to disagree or to protest. I think that is an important thing for people to understand: Putin and the Russian military do not necessarily represent the will of the Russian people,” Good said.

With the future of Ukraine being so uncertain, the country is putting up a fight against the Russian military for their independence, according to the Washington Post. 

Brooke said she is concerned for Ukraine and its people. “Of course it sorrows me for the future of Ukraine. The war has been going on since 2014 there, and it has gotten really really bad. I am just scared and worried for everyone there. There are really no words to describe the feeling. I just hope that everyone there will be safe and out of harm’s way. Ukraine is its own country, they have a different language, Putin thinks it’s a part of Russia, but it’s not,” Brooke Bicknell said. 

Morgan also said, “It is a needless war, and there is almost no reason why this is happening. Innocent lives are being taken and it is truly evil. Mr. Wells (history teacher at West) has always said ‘War only costs two things: lives and money’, and it’s been engraved in my mind since sophomore year. It makes me so sad for the people who are living there and that they are having to see their country get ruined, Ukraine is a very strong country filled with stronger people. Regardless, it will be a long and hard fight and they do need support in order for this to all end.” 

The President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, announced he would be fighting alongside his country as Russian forces try to invade the city of Kyiv. Biden tried to offer the president a way out of Ukraine, but Zelenskyy said, “The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride,” according to VanityFair. 

Good said, “I think that Ukraine is handling it as well as any country under siege could. I think it was the right move for the President of Ukraine to say ‘I’m staying. I’m here, I’m on the front lines with you’. Ironically, the President of Ukraine is a former comedian and actor who played a man who ended up becoming president.”

Brooke said the country holds a special place and beauty in her heart. Brooke said, “When I visited Ukraine my experience was amazing. We went to the second largest city in Ukraine, Kharkiv. It really is a beautiful city. The roads were not very good, and a lot of the buildings were very old and worn down. People do not smile at each other there, but that is normal in Russia and Ukraine. At the airport when we first arrived, it was difficult because nobody really spoke any English, and they don’t like Americans. The food was very good there, and there were many cool restaurants and shopping places.”

One attraction the twins visited was an amusement park. “Whenever I was at the amusement park, a man told me I needed to pay extra on a ride (we talked using google translate), but one of my Ukrainian relatives came over and spoke to him, and he just said that 2 people isn’t enough to ride this certain ride, and said nothing about the price, so I am assuming that some people rip off Americans there. However, most people were very kind to us, there were way more good people than rude people for sure,” Brooke said. 

Morgan said, “Visiting Ukraine was the most unique experience I’ve ever had in my life. We couldn’t visit the city where we were born because it was near Russian occupied territory and there was already a lot of violence over there so it was unsafe. We visited Kharkiv, the second largest city instead. Visiting was very surreal and I somewhat felt very connected to everything. It was extremely eye opening to see the culture and the day-to-day lives of the citizens.”

With the current war many emotions are felt, Morgan said. “I also learned that Ukraine is a misunderstood country overall. Ukrainian people are friendly people. They are a country of peace.”