Yanina Nickless, 27, standing in front of the Crest Motel in Old Orchard Beach, where she met her husband. She worries about her family in Ukraine and calls her parents daily. They had to flee from their village because of Russian bombing. Michele McDonald/Photo Editor

Yanina Nickless couldn’t help counting the personal losses when Russia first invaded her home country of Ukraine and rolled into the tiny village where she grew up.

A cousin in the Ukrainian army was taken prisoner. Her parents fled to a village farther from the front lines. An uncle moved into his root cellar after his house was destroyed. Classmates and other villagers she had known all her life were killed or seriously injured.

Yantarne, once a quiet town tucked in the vineyards of the Kherson region, saw constant bombing and casualties mounted as Nickless searched for news from Old Orchard Beach, where she has lived for nearly a decade.

Eventually, she had to stop worrying about everyone all the time.

“It became too hard,” said Nickless, 27. “Now, as long as I know my parents are OK, that’s all that matters to me.”

Nickless, the human resources administrator for the town of Kennebunkport, is one of nearly 200 Ukrainians in Maine who are marking the somber one-year anniversary Friday of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, escalating a war that started in 2014.


Before the invasion, an estimated 20 to 30 Ukrainian immigrants lived in Maine, but their numbers have grown in the last 12 months. Resettlement agencies are providing assistance to 92 recent arrivals from Ukraine, according to the Office of Maine Refugee Services, while other families have been privately sponsored.

Like Nickless, they are war-weary and fearful that the unprovoked attacks will continue to destroy the people and nation of Ukraine. They believe Russian President Vladimir Putin is committed to wiping out both, and they say the overall goal of his “special military action” is to reunite the Soviet Union and further his assault on Western democracy.

They point to recent reports of war crimes and a report that at least 6,000 Ukrainian children have been relocated to Russia in forced secret adoptions as proof that a cultural genocide is underway.

“The thought of parents losing their children and not knowing where they are, it’s probably the worst pain a person could have,” said Oleksandra Lesya Stasiv, 47, an attorney who lives in Yarmouth.

Stasiv first came to the U.S. from Ukraine in 1990 as a Rotary high school exchange student. She continued her education in Maine, married, and has three daughters, ages 17 to 23. Her parents, both in their 70s, arrived in August, leaving behind their home in Lviv, a large city in western Ukraine.

“They had tickets to go back in November, but it didn’t work out,” she said. “They still want to go back. No matter what their age, Ukrainians all want to help. They all feel they can do something.”


The Russian incursion reminds Stasiv of the stories she has heard from family members who lived through the “barbaric” Soviet takeover during World War II.

“Putin has made it clear that he despises democracy and freedom and he wants to recreate the Soviet Union,” Stasiv said. “He views Ukraine as a stepping stone.

“I think he underestimated how much his attack would rally the world, because Putin’s goals do not reflect the kind of world most people want today. But he’s not going to stop.”


As many as 100,000 soldiers have been killed on both sides and about the same number injured, according to various official estimates. At least 8,000 civilians have been killed and nearly 13,300 injured, U.N. officials have reported as conservative estimates.

Amid repeated attacks on power stations this winter, about 14 million people have been displaced from their homes and 18 million are in dire need of humanitarian assistance.


Now, both sides are preparing for a potentially more disastrous phase as Russia recently intensified its push to capture all of the Donbas region and could be poised to attack elsewhere on the eastern front. Meanwhile, Ukraine is waiting for battle tanks and other new weapons pledged by the West to help reclaim occupied areas.

Speaking from Warsaw on Tuesday after a surprise visit to Ukraine, President Biden warned of “hard and bitter days ahead,” but vowed that the United States and other allies “will not waver” in their support. The U.S. has provided $75 billion in humanitarian, financial and military assistance, while the European Union has contributed $58 billion, according to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, a German research institute.

Despite Biden’s assurances, Ukrainians in Maine say they worry about waning support among Republicans. They see the war as a battle to preserve NATO, the European Union and democracy worldwide. Ukraine applied to join the EU after the invasion, and it is a cooperating partner country, but not a member, of NATO.

“Right now, Ukraine is fighting for NATO. Ukrainians are dying to preserve democracy and the European Union,” said Zhenya Shevchenko, 47, who lives in Gray and is superintendent of Oxford’s municipal wastewater treatment plant.

Zhenya Shevchenko, originally from Ukraine, came to the United States in 2000. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer


Shevchenko moved to Maine in 2000 to marry his wife, Schelene. The couple met in 1991 when she was a high school exchange student in Lviv, where he grew up. They have a son, 17, and a daughter, 14.


Shevchenko is among a small group of Ukrainians in Maine who have been raising money and other support for those affected by the war. His father, now a professor in Poland, still owns a country home near Lviv where two families fleeing eastern Ukraine stayed for a few months last year.

He’s especially worried that a favorite cousin could be drafted. He talks weekly with family members throughout the region.

“I worry about them all the time,” he said. “Putin wants to be a czar. He wants to have an empire again. The Russians won’t stop. If they can grab more, they won’t stop.”

More recent arrivals share the same concerns. Inna Cherednichenko, 35, came to Maine last July with her husband and son, 11. A schoolteacher in Ukraine, she is now a case management coordinator providing support to other Ukrainians in Maine.

“For us, the fact that the war has been going on for a year is so painful,” she said. “We have family still in Ukraine and they are exhausted.”

She hopes the war ends soon.


Stasiv, the lawyer, shares that hope. She also hopes American support doesn’t wane. It has been strong so far, with Ukrainian flags still displayed on many homes in Maine and across social media.

“I understand it’s an expensive war and the price of human suffering has been too great,” Stasiv said. “But the U.S. is funding peace and democracy. We are funding what we stand for.”

Zhenya Shevchenko hopes that Russians “can open their eyes and see beyond Putin’s propaganda.” Whether or not the war ends, he plans to visit Ukraine with his family in August. The last time they were there in 2013, his son had just started walking.

“I want them to see the city where I was born,” he said.

Nickless admits she’s had mixed success keeping her mind off the war, despite tremendous support from her coworkers in Kennebunkport and from her husband, Sean, and his family, who operate the Crest Motel in Old Orchard Beach. That’s where they met in 2014 when she came to work as a housekeeper at the motel next door.

She still follows the news from Ukraine, and she talks and texts with her parents daily, as long as power outages don’t interfere. She worries about her dad, who returns to his farm regularly to feed the animals and check on his grapevines and fruit trees. At 50, he could be drafted at any time. Her mother is a librarian, but the local library has been closed since Russian soldiers broke in and burned the books. Her cousin is still a prisoner of war, but family members hope he soon will be exchanged for a Russian soldier.

“I want the war to be over,” Nickless said. “It is so unnecessary and it has ruined so many lives. For many people, everything has changed. Nothing will be OK ever again.”

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