This week I had the wonderful opportunity to interview Hardin-Simmons University student Natalya (Ayla) Newsome and hear her story. Newsome is originally from Ukraine and shared how the war between Russia and Ukraine has personally impacted her. Below are her own words, full of passion, courage, inspiration and faith.
“Hello, my name is Natalya Newsome. I am originally from Odesa, Ukraine, but my home is in Newport, R.I. I have three younger sisters Maeve, Alexandra and Brettyn, and my parents, Brooke and John Newsome, whom I love so much. I am currently a senior at Hardin-Simmons University, and my major is Information Systems.
When Gretchen Lumpkin asked if I wanted to share my personal story of how the war in Ukraine affects me and my family back home, I first wanted to share a background story of how I ended up where I am.
I was born in Ukraine and, soon after birth, was placed in an orphanage where I spent the first 11 years of my life. Life in an orphanage and Ukraine in general, is hard. As an orphan in Ukraine, there is little hope for your future due to the country having a high percentage rate of drug abuse, prostitution, homelessness and alcoholism. These social problems particularly affect those who grew up in the system with little guidance. Unfortunately, because of these ongoing problems, this vicious cycle has continued from one generation to the next. Ukrainian children, like all children, need families, and without someone loving them, teaching them and preparing them for life, being successful can be very hard to achieve without help.
As a young child, I remember learning about God, Jesus, and the Bible and how they all relate to each other. I began to pray every day that I would be adopted by a family that would accept me for who I am, that I could love and feel loved for once. I had faith that one day God would answer my prayers and I was patient. I always had a smile on my face and tried to make everyone happy and tell them to have hope that their prayers would be heard and answered. I also told myself to keep my spirits up and not give up on myself. Since I did not want to become a Ukrainian orphan statistic, I just kept praying.
I was set to be transferred to a new orphanage at the end of the summer, away from the only home I had ever known, and away from everyone I knew. Somehow, just in the nick of time, my American parents arrived at my orphanage in Odesa. I recognized them, as they had visited my orphanage the Christmas prior and I met them as they brought Christmas gifts to my friends and me. The day they arrived for me, I remember coming back from the beach with my group and seeing their faces while they tried to hide in the taxi from me and my group, but I couldn’t hold my happiness in, so I ran out of my group to say hello to them. I remember asking them if they brought presents to us but before I could get an answer back from them, I was called back to my group. That evening, I was asked to come down to the director’s office where we had a translator who asked me the most important question, one that I had been waiting for my whole life. Did I want to be adopted? Of course I said yes!
Several weeks later, I was adopted and left the orphanage. I was so eager to get out, but at the same time, I knew I would be leaving everything I had ever known: my friends, culture, language and the beauty that Ukraine brings. I brought with me the life lessons that I had learned through my hard life in Ukraine: being thankful for what you have, a strong work ethic, praying to God, doing whatever you can to make other people smile and continue to share what I was known for: my smile. As an orphan, I did not have much, but I was still able to do these things.
Now it has been 10 years since I left Ukraine. Since then, I have served on a mission team for Ukrainian children at a Polish summer camp as a translator between the kids and my American team. Through the kids and their Ukrainian leaders, I was able to see how much progress Ukraine has made since I was last there. Ukraine hosted Euro Cup soccer and because of that, the country really invested in tourism and improvement of the infrastructure. In 10 short years, it was almost unrecognizable with all the new improvements, but still had the heart of Ukraine unchanged. Buildings a thousand years old, the blue and yellow flags flying, blue and yellow painted everywhere showing Ukrainian pride in its monuments, memorials and traditions.
Now, today, after only five weeks, it's unrecognizable for another reason. All of the energy that they put into improving Ukraine has been destroyed and left as rubble. The enemy can take down the buildings and bridges, but they cannot take down the Ukrainian spirit. They can’t take away the heart of Ukraine, the culture, the faith. God is bigger than the enemy.
Personally, I feel guilty because a part of me thinks that “How is it that I am free in America, living my best life, while the people that I grew up with are suffering, (i.e. losing homes, getting injured, feeling unsafe, killed and having to flee their native land)?” I do not have to worry about anything here in America, and I feel like I took my time in Ukraine for granted. I only focused on the negatives, instead of seeing how my first country helped to shape me into who I am today.
I have taken some time to reflect upon how Ukraine has made me Natalya Newsome. Because of Ukraine I am strong, I am independent, I am a hard worker, and I share what I have to offer. I am a citizen of both Ukraine and America, and I love both countries for all that they have done for me. My life in America might be easier and where I can fulfill my dreams, but I cannot help but grieve for my other half: Ukraine. In recent years they have built so much, developed so much, and now, it has been taken away, left as rubble.
Ukrainians don’t have much, but they live with what they have. Despite having so little, they are some of the greatest believers in God that I have ever met. There is no politics in their faith, God is not forbidden. They are grateful, they are providers, they are united, and they are proud to be the citizens of Ukraine no matter the hardships they must face. I know they will fight until the last man stands, but I wish I was there too. I would fight for my native country, my roots. I know my life was not easy there, but I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Ukraine and the encouragement of her people to always have faith.
Ukrainians did not provoke this war. They appreciate and protect what they have - agriculture, family, infrastructure, etc. and now are being forced to watch it be destroyed. I knew Ukrainians were brave and tough, but this has shown the world a whole new level of toughness. I cannot believe that this has happened in simple Ukraine, but I also cannot believe that it has continued to happen for over a month now. I wish that the world would intervene, but it seems as though the world allows the Russian president to be a bully, destroying lives and getting away with it.
It has been nice to see Americans flying the Ukrainian flag, receiving words of support, seeing prayer vigils, and national buildings lit up in blue and yellow for Ukraine. When I came to America, most people had no idea where Ukraine was, or would say, “Isn’t that a part of Russia?” No, it definitely is not, and never will be. And now, everyone seems to know where Ukraine is and just how tough her people are. My mom says it is like September 12th, the day after 9/11. Everyone was united, flags were everywhere. The drama was on hold. In all of this chaos, we remain hopeful and united.
As a young child, with little hope for the future, I was taught to have faith. Now, Ukraine, standing in rubble, but standing nonetheless, continues to have faith.
Слава Богу. СлаваУкраїні. Героям слава!”