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Spring Break no escape for Ukrainian visiting Marble Falls

Danyil Slipenko, 20, of Ukraine

Danyil Slipenko, 20, of Ukraine is visiting Marble Falls over Spring Break. During his stay, he continues to look for ways to assist his family and friends still living in his hometown of Kyiv, which is now a battleground as Russia wages an unprovoked war against the sovereign nation. Staff photo by Brigid Cooley

For Ukraine native Danyil Slipenko, 20, visiting Marble Falls over Spring Break is a welcome distraction from the war raging in his home country. Between sightseeing and Hill Country adventures, however, Slipenko checks in with friends and family who remain in Ukraine. 

“The situation is crazy,” Slipenko said. “Yesterday, I was on the phone with one of my best friends — we grew up together. As soon as (the war) started, (he and his family) moved to a village because they thought it was going to be safe there. But then they heard news that the village next to that one was completely destroyed, so they went to another small town. The next day, he said there was a bombing and the sky was red and all that stuff, so they moved to another place. He’s moved like five times now.” 

On Feb. 24, Russia began an unprovoked, full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Since then, over 3 million people have fled to neighboring countries while Ukrainian military forces and remaining citizens defend their homeland. 

News of the war hit close to home for Slipenko, who lived in his hometown of Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital city, until he graduated from high school and began working as a Christian missionary with the Youth on a Mission program. For the past year, he has been living in the United States as he attends Moody Bible Institute of Chicago for college. 

During his weeklong visit to Marble Falls, Slipenko has been staying with Jenny and Will Brust and their family, with whom he connected after meeting daughter Madison on a mission trip in England. 

While he’s enjoyed his time in the Highland Lakes, he continues to focus on ways to support his family and friends through both prayer and financial assistance from afar. 

Before the war broke out in late February, Slipenko’s parents and two younger sisters left Ukraine for Poland. However, some of his family members, including his grandmother, older sister, and uncle remain in or near Kyiv. 

“My people who I grew up with, I’m exactly the same as them,” he said. “By God’s grace, I’m here, but at the same time, it can be really heavy. It’s (them) who are staying in basements for safety. They don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Slipenko recounted how a friend living in Kyiv recently asked him for $30 to help pay for food and other necessities while she and her family use the hallways of their home as a makeshift bomb shelter. The request, he said, was humbling. 

“It’s crazy how I can spend more in a night than what they need to survive for a week,” he said. 

As the war rages on, Slipenko encourages U.S. citizens to educate themselves on what’s happening overseas. 

“I feel that people need to know the truth and the reality,” he said. “I’m glad that people want to know about it here. Some people in Russia, they’re brainwashed by their news. Some of them are convinced that we are attacking ourselves and that Russia came to help. It’s unbelievable how people can absorb that information without even thinking.” 

Those interested in offering financial support to Ukrainains during the war can look to international organizations such as UNICEF, the International Rescue Committee, or Amnesty International. Numinous Coffee Roasters, 715 RR 1431 in Marble Falls, is also raising money for World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit organization providing meals to Ukrainian citizens and refugees. 

brigid@thepicayune.com