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Culver provides 'sense of normalcy' for campers from Ukraine

Tom Coyne

A Sense of Respite


July 15, 2022

The families of four summer campers from Ukraine say they are grateful Culver Summer Schools & Camps is providing a respite from the stress they’ve been under since Russia invaded their country in February.

“It gives them a little bit of normalcy and gets their mind off the war,” said Shane Sorg ’90 N’88 W’85, who has three children at Culver this summer. “Because every day, they're watching clips of war and reading about war. That’s not something that 12-year-olds and 14-year-olds should be doing. So camp is great.”

That is echoed by Iryna Voloshyna, who said Culver is the best place for her 16-year-old nephew, Misha Yadukha.

“It’s a safe place where he doesn’t have to worry about the war for a little bit,” she said.

                    Misha Yadukha

The campers say attending summer camps in Indiana on the scenic Culver campus is a refuge. For 12-year-old Arianna Sorg, a Bronze C in Cardinal Wing 2, the best part of being at Woodcraft Camp is focusing on fun.

“It’s kind of a relief because I get to forget about things,” she said. This is her third summer at Culver. “If I were at home with my phone, I’d be watching the news and knowing what’s going on. It’s kind of stressful. Being here is a relief because I can forget about everything.”

The Sorg children, Arianna and 14-year-old twins Katya (Deck 2) W’21 and Chris (Naval Band) W’21, both third classmen at Culver, fled Ukraine two weeks before the war began because of concerns Russia would invade. Katya and Arianna went to Egypt with their mother, Nina Pyzhova, who is a native of Ukraine, and their grandmother, while Chris went to stay with his father in Cyprus. The children and their mother were scheduled to return to their home in Kyev, the capital of Ukraine, on Feb. 24. That was the day Russia invaded.

“I’m just thankful the invasion occurred before they got back,” Sorg said.

Misha, a third classmen in Aviation, was in his hometown of Khmelnytsk, in western Ukraine, when Russia attacked. He has seen Russian jets firing missiles at an oil storage tank near his parents’ trucking firm.

“It was fortunately empty. If it had been full, it would have been a very big explosion,” Misha said. “It was very scary.”

His parents decided to remain in Ukraine and send their children to stay with their aunt, who is earning her doctorate at Indiana University. They finished the school year at Harmony School in Bloomington, then Culver awarded a scholarship to Misha.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Voloshyna said. “He was really excited to be on the aviation track.”

Misha said he’s learning all sorts of new things.

“Next week I will try golf. It looks fun,” he said. “You get to do a lot of things you never did before.”

Chris said he’d rather be back in Ukraine with friends he hasn’t seen in four months. He is happy to be at Culver, though.

“It’s kind of a relief because I’ve been sitting for months in one place with no friends, no nothing. It’s fun. You make friends, you have a place to stay. It’s nice. But I’d rather be at home. I haven’t seen my friends or my house or my school or anything like that in such a long time,” he said.

The campers say one of the hardest things is knowing they may never see some friends again.

“It’s honestly really hard because one of my friends is in Germany now, one of my friends is in Bulgaria, and we were texting online and FaceTiming for several months and we still didn’t get the chance to see each other. We don’t know when we’re going to be able to see each other,” Arianna said. “That’s really sad.”

School shut down for a week and a half when the invasion began, but then resumed remotely, like it had previously because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The classes were sometimes interrupted by air raid sirens.

“We were scared for teachers and half the class because they’re like, ‘I have to go because there might be bombs coming down,’ ” Arianna said.

Sorg likes that the children don’t have access to cellphones or social media at Culver, so they can’t constantly monitor the news.

“They just get to be kids,” he said.

But he also worries about where his children will be going to school this fall.

He said international schools in Cyprus have waitlists and they can’t attend regular schools there because they don’t speak Greek. Attending school in the United States is a challenge because their mother doesn’t yet have a visa. Shane said even though a lot of people have returned to Ukraine, he remains concerned.

“A missile could drop in Kyev at any minute,” he said.

The children said not knowing where they are headed after camp is worrisome.

What they want more than anything is to return to a Ukraine they know no longer exists.

“I really want to go home because I miss everything so much,” Katya said. “I didn’t get to say goodbye to my friends, and I’m probably never going to see them again because they all moved away. … I just want everything to be the same; but I know it’s never going to be the same.”

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