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Helen moved to Ukraine from the United States ten years ago. The move was supposed to be temporary—her husband, a venture capitalist, had invested in Ukrainian start-ups—but the couple ended up staying. “It was quite challenging in the beginning, but over time, the country has grown on me,” Helen tells me over Zoom on March 13. Helen was actually born in Ukraine but moved to the United States in 1988 because of the antisemitism at the time. But being a Jew in Ukraine is different now Helen says. “It’s cool to be Jewish now. My gentile students go around with Magen David necklaces and are trying to learn Hebrew.”
Wearing a George Washington University sweatshirt and chugging from a New York Public Library water bottle, Helen explains why she and her husband have decided to stay in Kyiv despite the ongoing war raging just outside her apartment. “It’s for the babushkas,” Helen says with a laugh, using the affectionate term for grandmothers. While that is not the only reason, Helen has spent the past two weeks going to visit older people who are afraid to leave their apartments: “They don’t want to call the help lines but still need people to see them.” Before the war, Helen, a longtime fashion marketing and branding executive, lectured on the history of fashion and the contemporary fashion market. Now she is teaching English and other subjects to students since schools are closed. She is also a correspondent for L’Officiel Monaco.
“It’s heartbreaking and impossible to comprehend what’s happening in Ukraine now,” she says. Her husband’s business partner spent three days driving his pregnant wife to the Polish border, knowing he would have to come back to join territorial defense forces and not knowing when and if he will see her again (it took him almost a week to return to Kyiv). But she tries to remain positive. “Life goes on,” says Helen.
Moment is publishing regular updates from Helen about what life is like in Kyiv as the Russians continue their bombardment and try to lay siege to the city.