For the O’Mealey family, the attack of Ukraine is personal


Oriana O'Mealey

In December 2020, Oriana O’Mealey visited her aunt and extended family in Ukraine.

Ben Riley

Soph. Oriana O’Mealey’s mother doesn’t get much sleep anymore. She instead intently watches the news into the waning hours of the night, restless and concerned over the safety of her family.  

For the past month and a half, every news channel has been dialed in on the conflict unfolding in Ukraine. People around the world watch in frustration, desperation, and sorrow. As violence rises, so does the feeling of helplessness for those bearing witness. 

As unsettling as the news is, the vast majority of us go about our daily routine without even the slightest twinge in fear of war. 

Of course, there’s hardly such a thing as a universal truth. Some aren’t able to sleep peacefully at night. Some have walked the streets of Ukraine, a country they love. Some have families living their worst nightmare. For O’Mealey, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine couldn’t hit closer to home. “I was born here in the United States, but I speak Russian when talking to my mom. Our whole city [Kherson] actually speaks Russian. My mom was born there and she met my dad, who is American, here in the states,” O’Mealey said. Like her mother, her brother was born and raised in Ukraine, but both moved to the U.S. later on in life. O’Mealey’s aunt, uncle, cousin, and grandma currently reside in Kherson, Ukraine. 

Oriana O’Mealey

Though she was born in the United States, O’Mealey frequently visited her family. O’Mealey recalls her annual childhood trips. Travel was exhausting, and would often take 24 hours or more. Her initial flight would depart from Chicago and arrive in Poland. From there her plane would arrive in Kyiv, and then finally to Kherson. The airport in Kherson was modern, no different from airports here in the U.S. That airport is now flattened, gone. “The airport we fly into is burning,” O’Mealey said. She was supposed to go there for spring break. 

One of O’Mealey’s favorite places to visit was Fabrika Mall. More of an amusement park than a shopping center, it included a McDonald’s, bowling alley, skating rink, movie theater, climbing wall, and even a petting zoo, and was an ideal spot to hang out. When the mall was bombed, the animals escaped and ran rampant through the abandoned building. A quick search on YouTube reveals countless before and after shots of the popular destination. What was once an inviting, brightly colored, sturdy building is now reduced to blackened rubble. 

With each childhood visit, O’Mealey noticed that Kherson became more and more developed. This modernization was one of the benefits of a booming economy. That has since changed in correlation with current events. “I have lots of pictures from my childhood visits to Kyiv, and a lot of the surrounding buildings that once stood are gone from this conflict,” O’Mealey said. If some of these pictures were to be held up to match the place they were taken, they would now be unrecognizable. Any progress in development has been annihilated, and once the war is over, Ukraine’s economy will basically have to start over from scratch.

Despite the danger, some families are choosing to stick it out, continuing to stay in Ukraine. “A lot of people have been forced to flee. I would say in my aunt’s neighborhood there are about ten homes and only two of those residents are still there. One of them being mine,” O’Mealey said.

In addition to the stress of being in grave danger, the O’Mealeys also have the anxiety of possibly sending a family member to fight in the war. “My family is still living where they are, and my cousin is 22 so we are thinking that he is probably going to have to go into the army eventually,” O’Mealey said. It’s one thing to voluntarily go into the draft, it’s another to be forced to enter. 

Despite all the emotions O’Mealey and her family go through on a daily basis, O’Mealey remains optimistic and praises the efforts of the president. “I think a lot of people are supporting the president’s efforts. He was offered to be flown out of the country, but he wanted to stay, and I feel like a lot of presidents would react differently and would leave. I think he is the right person because he doesn’t want to give up,” O’Mealey said. Her approval of the president reflects the beliefs of the majority Ukranians. This shared belief shows just how resilient the people of Ukraine are. They will continue to fight until this is all over.