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'Every conversation is terrifying.' SLO woman from Ukraine shares fears over family's safety

She started her new job in SLO County the same day Russia invaded her home country
Posted at 5:53 PM, Mar 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-14 22:26:14-04

Imagine watching the Russian invasion of Ukraine unfolding on TV for the past few weeks knowing your family members are there and not knowing how long, or even if, they'll be safe.

That's the reality for one Ukrainian immigrant who moved to San Luis Obispo County for a new job just days before the Russian invasion.

"When I get here, it helps me to not think about anything," Olena Nagorna said of her new job. "But every morning and every night you check and you just want to make sure your family is alive."

Olena emigrated from Ukraine to the United States with her parents and sister when she was 15 to get a better education.

After graduating with a master's degree from the University of Connecticut, she relocated to San Luis Obispo to take a job with the county - a job that started the day Russia invaded her homeland.

"I know that I start on my day at work and I just want to jump into it because it's a new job and you just want to present yourself, and then you just get home and everything changes," she said.

Olena wrapped up her first day on the job and called home.

"I talk with my aunt and my aunt moved in with grandma just so she constantly has a person with her. I basically started going through the list - all my close ones - just to make sure they were safe."

She says she was lucky to be able to visit her family over the summer before finishing up school and starting a new job in another new home, San Luis Obispo.

"I was leaving and going back to the United States and I knew I was starting a new job soon and I was balling my eyes out just because I hadn't had a family dinner in such a long time, like a family dinner. And now you just don't know if you are ever going to have a family dinner. I don't know if I ever get to see them, which is intense."

Olena says even though she's by herself with the pressure of a new job in a new city, she's mostly worried about the relatives she left behind.

"Every conversation is terrifying just because for them, life had stopped. You know that they are in danger, but the scary thing is they cannot imagine a future right now."

She says in a strange way, the hardest part is being here safe, knowing they are not.

"It's better to just be there and help. Like you feel so helpless, and you never know, you just feel helpless."

Olena says there are ways to help. She is asking others to reach out to Razom for Ukraine.