Lilia Chernytska makes a chocolate sauce for a cake on Friday, April 8, 2022, at Brown Cow on Madison Street in Forest Park, Ill. | ALEX ROGALS/Staff Photographer

Before Liliia Chernytska moved from Ukraine to Forest Park in October 2020, she had been working with orphans in Kyiv for 10 years. Those were happier days.

For the last two months she has been getting distressing calls from those kids telling her how frightened they are. 

“They are traumatized,” she reported. “They hear bombs exploding. One group has been living in a basement and told me they have only five days of food left.”

What Forest Park residents see on TV, her family and friends are seeing up close and very personal. People close to her are fighting on the front lines. A friend in Mariupol has been under siege for two years, because the war in that part of Ukraine actually began eight years ago. “No one sleeps in their own bed anymore,” she said, pointing out that their homes have either been destroyed, they’re fighting in the army, or they’re refugees. 

“For many, even if they are able to return some day,” she said, “they have nothing to return to, so much has been destroyed by Russian artillery and rockets. It’s heart-breaking.”

Chernytska is a deeply empathic person. She intends to return to Ukraine with her American-born husband after she earns a master’s degree in clinical mental health and work there as a trauma therapist with her orphans and with so many other people whose lives have been turned upside down and inside out.

Meanwhile, she is collecting money — $7,000 so far in just the last month — to buy things like battlefield medical kits, bullet-proof vests and even clothing for her fellow Ukrainians who are defending their country against the Russian army. Some of the money will also go to refugee houses in parts of Ukraine that are not on the front lines. One need, for example, is a washing machine and drier for a hospice facility where, until now, workers have been washing clothes by hand. She and her husband Matt, who is teaching at Moody Bible Institute while she pursues her degree at Wheaton College, are presently preparing to send seven boxes of supplies to her homeland. 

If readers are moved to help, they can drop off donations of money or other items at the Brown Cow where she works part-time or contact her at

In addition to collecting money and material donations, Liliia asks readers to support her and her fellow countrymen in non-material ways. “I would like people to pray,” she said, “to stand spiritually with and truly pray for the people of Ukraine and for protection for soldiers.

“My heart is constantly bleeding. I can’t really enjoy anything because of the war.”

Americans can’t know what it’s really like to live in a place like Bucha, but she would like her neighbors in Forest Park to try. “There are no words to describe what it feels like to see dead bodies on your own streets. To see a guy riding a bicycle and in an instant he’s gone in an artillery barrage.”

Unlike newscasters who warn people that the images may be disturbing, she asks her neighbors here in town to force themselves to watch. “I know it is tempting,” she explained, “to turn that kind of news off and take a break from disturbing pictures, but my people back home don’t have the luxury of taking a break. This is the time to cry with those who are crying and grieve with people who are grieving. There are times when I want someone to try to understand how hard it is.”

Asked to explain what motivates the Ukrainian “Davids” to fight so fiercely against the Russian “Goliath,” she gives a history lesson. For centuries, she explained, Ukrainians have been oppressed by Russians, at first when the country was ruled by the czars and then when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union.

Between the two world wars, Stalin sent thousands of Ukrainians to Siberia, she said. His intention was to replace them with Russians. There was a famine, and even though Ukraine is sometimes referred to as the “breadbasket of Europe,” during that time Stalin would take the entire grain harvest to Russia while the people who grew the crops starved. “My grandma told me a story of a woman who was shot by the Russians for picking grain up from the ground after the combine had gone through the field.”

“The intelligentsia,” she said, “singers, teachers, writers, poets — everyone who tried to carry Ukrainian culture — were oppressed. It was illegal to speak Ukrainian.”

Her parents, who were teachers, were bilingual. During the Soviet era, they got so used to speaking Russian that they spoke that language even at home. She learned to speak Ukrainian well from her grandmother whom she lived with in the summer in a small town where the Soviet culture police were not as present as in Kyiv. 

“She was a teacher of Ukrainian literature and language and would recite Ukrainian poems to me and tell me stories from Ukrainian literature. When I grew up, I chose to speak Ukrainian.”

She added that many Ukrainians still speak Russian, but that shouldn’t make westerners believe they don’t think of themselves as Ukrainian.

Having tasted freedom and independence after the break-up of the Soviet Union in the 1990s and the end of 300 years of subservience if not downright slavery under the Russians, Ukrainians never want to go back.