Jul 19, 2022
My name is Maksym Dedushko, and I am a past GSBA Scholar. I was born and raised in Chernihiv, Ukraine where my family has lived for generations. At the age of sixteen, I came to the U.S. to study as an exchange student. With the help of GSBA’s scholarships and network, I successfully finished a B.S. degree in Chemistry and Molecular Biology and a Ph.D. in Chemistry at the University of Washington in Seattle.
From the end of February to April, my hometown Chernihiv was under siege for more than five weeks. Being a regional center and located an hour away our capital, the Russian army attempted to occupy Chernihiv and to open a direct route to Kyiv. However, since the Ukrainian armed forces were able to halt Russian advances on every occasion and never let them in, the Russian forces resorted to bombing the city into the ground.
My hometown has suffered an unimaginable destruction from aerial bombardment and long-range missile strikes from Belarus. During the first two weeks of invasion, countless residential and private buildings – our historic cinema, a new mall, most police stations, gas stations, oil depots, the city’s football field, a central hotel, two marketplaces, schools, general hospitals and an oncology hospital, and my kindergarten – have been hit and destroyed by rocket attacks and plane bombs. The fourth floor of my sister’s apartment building was hit by four rockets in late March (shown in local video news here), blasting her front door inside her apartment and shattering all the windows. Rocket strike resulted in the entire upper floor burning and damaging the roof. Although the building is now officially condemned, my sister and her boyfriend, along with other residents, still live there. My sister mother-in-law’s house was hit by multiple rockets, with only a single wall now standing. My aunt’s apartment building was hit by a missile rocket as well.
Weeks before the war and during the invasion, I have pleaded with my family to leave and offered assistance for them move to Western Ukraine, but everyone has refused. My parents told me that Chernihiv is their home, and they will fight for it. My dad joined a volunteer territorial defense battalion on the fourth day of invasion. My mom volunteered by donating blood, buying food, and helping prepare Molotov cocktails with our neighbors. My cousin’s husband and his dad also joined another volunteer battalion. On March 4th, he died under the rubble of a collapsed high school that was bombed by a Russian plane. My cousin is now a widow with two small children. Over the next two days, Ukrainian forces were able to shoot down all the Russian planes that were raiding Chernihiv. One of the planes fell into a house where grandparents of my sister’s boyfriend lived. While his grandmother made it out of the house, his grandfather burned alive in his house.
For the last two weeks of March, the Russian army has been focusing on blockading and suffocating the remaining population. About 130,000 people were left in the city out of the total of 285,000. During that time, no one in the city had electricity, water, heat, gas, internet, or cellphone connection. My family members would later tell me that they have spent most of the time hiding in the cellars, venturing into city on foot to find bread and water whenever it was possible. My mom and our neighbors cooked food on campfire in front of our home. My mom tells me that in one way, cooking together with neighbors while watching out for any sound of shelling has made them become closer to one another.
Nevertheless, The Russian army has failed to take any major cities in the north of Ukraine and has left the Chernihiv, Kyiv, and Sumy regions at the beginning of April. I have never felt so much relief after more than a month of constant terror and fear for the lives of my family. Since then, my dad’s volunteer battalion has been absorbed into the regular Ukraine armed forces. He is now stationed somewhere by the Belarusian border where they dig trenches, fortify roads, and train daily. He has also received higher grade defensive gear and weapons supplied by the U.S. On top of that, my dad says they are regularly being visited by the Ukrainian armed forces who were trained by the US and NATO forces. They conduct NATO and the U.S. level training and drills such as urban warfare and urban tactical troop movement. In their free time they play soccer games to unwind and not dwell over the war constantly. Russia continues to shell our villages by its borders and launch rockets deep into our region.
Since early May, I have started a GoFundMe page to raise funds to support my family members as they try to rebuild their lives with the war still raging in the east and south. Now that the siege of Chernihiv is over, almost everyone in my family finds themselves without jobs or money to survive in a city that has been 70% damaged or destroyed. Moreover, this fund has already helped my cousin, her parents, and parents-in-law to retrieve the body of her cousin from a mass grave, where he was buried after the plane bombing, and give him a proper burial. Please feel free to share it with friends and family who might be able to help as well. I have been providing updates there as well, including the pictures of people who are receiving support and the kind of food this fund has allowed my parents to buy.
Thank you for allowing me to share my family’s story.