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On the other side of the war

Logan and Viktoria Muehlman show photos sent from their family living in Ukraine, at their home in Columbia, Missouri, March 16, 2022.

It’s been nearly two months since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine and here in Columbia, Missouri, the world is less changed, but some Ukrainian families find themselves caught between two worlds.

Among the Ukrainian families in Columbia is business owner Yuri Rozenblat, his wife Olena Rozenblat and their family.

The Rozenblats follow the same anxious routine every morning: They text and call all their friends in Ukraine, check the news, text, call some more, drink some coffee, and go back to the news.

As their friends on the other end of the phone are going to bed, they’re heading to work and school.

When Russia first began its offensive in Ukraine, the Rozenblats were struggling to cope.

"[You] wake up and you grab your phone," says Yuri Rozenblat, "and make sure ... you can see people online. Well that means one thing, they are still alive."

Yuri Rozenblat runs My Automotive in Columbia. Olena Rozenblat works at University Hospital, and their daughter Viktoriya is a nursing student.

Now over a month in, the demands of running a small business, working in a hospital, and being a full-time nursing student are keeping the family busy, says Olena Rozenblat.

Viktoriya and Olena Rozenblat share their keepsakes from Ukraine, at the family business, My Automotive, in Columbia, Missouri.

"Believe me," she says, "last time I would be very angry if somebody in the Ukraine didn’t check at night and call me. It is at night for us, now I don’t care my phone is on every time. We don't shut the volume down when we go to bed."

Logan Muehlman worked in Ukraine as a Peace Corps volunteer a decade ago, where he met Viktoria, the woman he would marry. Viktoria's family was Logan's host family, so when the Russian invasion of the Crimea forced Logan out of Ukraine in 2014, she came with him.

Logan and Viktoria have visited Ukraine since 2014, with their most recent trip coming in February of this year, where they once again were forced to leave in a rush with the presence of Russia invading into Ukraine.

They made sure to take pictures of old family photos, not knowing if they would ever be able to see these memories, or their family members, ever again.

“People you know and love could die," said Logan Muehlman. "When you know that every time you talk to them could be the last time you talk to them, how do you deal with that? This is much more real when the rocket falls right next to the apartment building where they are living.”

Logan and Viktoria Muehlman pose with their baby daughter, dressed in Ukrainian attire. They display sunflowers on their dining room table, as a symbol for peace in Ukraine.

Despite being so far away from the war, Viktoria and Logan express their support for Ukraine here in the United States.

“Maybe our impact here is insignificant but it is all we can do, and we hope that it makes a difference. It’s great to have an emotional outlet instead of being on your phone reading the news all day.” Muehlman said.

While many members of the community come from Ukraine, with family members coming from all across the country, other members of the Columbia community lived their lives in Russia, and are now seeing how their family members on the opposite side of the war are doing.

Their unique world - the world that is a mixture of cultures, geography, family has changed in big ways and little ways.

Some of it is small things: like, not watching the same shows, having to charge your phone multiple times a day because you are so busy checking it, or sleeping with your phone ringer on loud.

The Rozenblats say they are happy they are still able to have communication with their family in Ukraine. They fear for a day when they may not be able to talk.

Things are bad, but they could get worse, so the Rozenblats say they’re just grateful they haven't gotten to the worse point yet. Yet. That’s a word the Rozenblats use often.

"It's weird. Conversations with friends and families, before it was like, 'Hey whats going? What's new? Where did you vacation? And stuff like that," says Yuri Rozenblat. "Now it's like, 'Hey is everything okay? Did they bomb? Did you hear anything? So that’s what kind of conversation we having right now."

The Rozenblats and the Muehlmans are caught between many realities. Like many Ukrainian families who are not in Ukraine.

"In the mean time, while everybody is playing big politics, Ukrainian people are dying by thousands," says Yuri Rozenblat. "So Ukrainians [are] ready to defend. I guess, 'Is the rest of the world ready'? is what the question is."

Meanwhile, the Rozenblats, the Muehlmans and Ukrainians like them have one vision: that of a free, safe, and democratic Ukraine.

*CORRECTION: The name of the Rozenblat family was updated and was originally incorrect. We apologize for the error.

Grace Pankey is a student at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. She's a member of the Missouri on Mic team.
Briana Heaney is a senior at the University of Missouri’s journalism school studying cross-platform editing and producing and minoring in economics.