Local woman worries for family in Ukraine, collects donations

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – As the Russian atrocities continue in Ukraine, people are seeing so many lives ripped apart. It’s also having an impact on the Ukrainian population in New Mexico.

Some feel helpless as their families desperately try to get out of the conflict zone. One woman is trying to support people in her home country from thousands of miles away.

For Larysa Castillo, a Ukrainian woman who’s lived in New Mexico since 2010, her concerns run much deeper. Her worries are for her family, like her mom who is still in Ukraine, trying to get to the Poland border. She has more than a dozen other relatives still in the conflict zone.

"Stressful, painful, tearful. I’m full of tears right now and it’s hard to hold them," said Castillo.

That’s how she’s felt for weeks now, as she has watched her home country of Ukraine become destroyed by war.

"What we’re facing right now, it’s a brutal, brutal attack on a peaceful nation," Castillo said.

Her mother and some of her relatives live about twenty kilometers south of the capital city of Kyiv. Their city has been bombed since Russia’s initial attack.

"Our faces are burning from tears because they’re never dry. It’s devastating to see what’s going on,” said Castillo.

Some of her family is trying to find refuge at Poland’s border, while others stayed back to fight in the civilian defense.

"Ukrainian people have been suppressed by so many centuries. From east, from west, from any direction. But through all these centuries, they never lost their spirit of freedom," said Castillo. "Our soldiers are so brave, they will defend their country to their last breath."

Castillo moved to New Mexico in 2010 but says Ukraine will always feel like her true home.

"We live here, but our loyalty, our love, always been with Ukraine. You know it’s our people, our country."

She wears a vyshyvanka, the name for a traditional Ukrainian blouse, with great pride these days.

"With heart full of pain but heart full of pride and loyalty to my country. It’s my second skin, it’s my protection. And it’s a way for me to show my support,” she said. "It’s like protection because everything has meaning. The border, the sleeves and the collar, everything makes sense because it’s protection from the evil spirit."

She’s doing whatever she can to support her family and other refugees, like collecting donations through her local organization, Ukrainian Americans of New Mexico. They’ve already filled more than a dozen boxes that will go to refugee zones.

"He’s stronger with the Army, but we’re stronger in our spirits, in our hearts.”

She just asks for one thing from her New Mexican neighbors.

"God’s on Ukrainian side and God will protect us, and we ask everyone, continue to pray. Please don’t stop."

The Ukrainian Americans of New Mexico organization is still collecting supplies to send to refugee zones and the civilian defense in Ukraine. They’re asking for medical supplies, like over-the-counter medication, bandages, and other first aid, and other supplies for soldiers like sleeping bags, underwear, and cell phones.

If you have any questions about the donation list, call Luda Kostyk at (505)-355-9216 or find more information on donation drop-offs on Ukrainian Americans of New Mexico’s Facebook page.