Reflecting on One Year of War
Hanna's story is part of the "Reflecting on One Year of War" series, created by Central Current to offer a space to document and elevate the many Ukrainian voices of our local community. If you or someone you know would like to be part of the series, email Sarah Dolgin at email@example.com.
Marion Cool puts a kettle on the stove and looks to Hanna Rusnak to see if she would like anything to drink. The two women exchange chuckles as they fuss around the kitchen and eventually settle at the dining room table.
Rusnak pulls out her phone to begin a conversation with her housemate of nearly three months, using Google Translate.
Rusnak, 49, came to live in Auburn with Cool, 85, in January. Cool was living alone following the death of her husband and had plenty of extra space in her home in Auburn where she raised seven children. When Cool caught wind of the war in Ukraine, she called Pastor Vasile Colopelnic of St. Peter & Paul Ukrainian Catholic Church and told him that she wanted to host a Ukrainian woman. Cool is not Ukrainian and is not affiliated with the local Ukrainian church, but she heard of Colopelnic’s efforts to bring refugees to Auburn through the community grapevine.
Colopelnic began making arrangements for Rusnak, originally from the Zakarpattia oblast in western Ukraine, to leave her home and live with Cool.
As the leaves changed in Central New York, Cool awaited Rusnak’s estimated September arrival. Soon, the trees were bare and Cool was sad her soon-to-be housemate would not make it in time to join her family Christmas celebration.
Two weeks after the holiday, Rusnak finally arrived.
Now, the two live under the same roof and communicate using a combination of Google Translate and hand gestures, as Rusnak is still in the process of learning English. Pastor Colopelnic served as a translator for Rusnak in an interview with Central Current.
Local volunteers are helping Ukrainian refugees learn English, but Rusnak works at Auburn Community Hospital with three other Ukrainian women in cleaning services during the day and is often too tired to study English when she returns home in the evening.
Colopelnic said that he knew Cool was the right host for Rusnak after hearing her speak of a Japanese friend she had when she was younger. The two did not speak the same language, but developed a strong companionship from time spent walking together, going out to coffee and learning one another’s mannerisms.
Years later, Cool continues to foster friendship despite the language barrier.
At first, Cool said that Rusnak seemed uncomfortable trying to find her place in the family. When Cool hosted a birthday party for a family member, Rusnak said:
“Where am I going to be?”
Cool replied, “You’re gonna be right here with us.”
Rusnak fit right in as she held Cool’s baby great granddaughter and watched the family play Yahtzee.
Now, Rusnak will come downstairs and join Cool to watch TV, and the two take turns cooking for one another. Cool said she loves nearly all of the Ukrainian dishes she’s tried, especially kapusta (a cabbage dish). When Cool’s family comes to visit they use their phones to translate and include Rusnak in conversations.
Cool and Rusnak worked to come up with a menu for Easter together, aiming to blend their cultures without overcooking.
Rusnak’s sister and nephew are also staying in Auburn, but most of her family remains in Ukraine or neighboring countries. Her mother and two older sisters live in Ukraine, her brother and his family are in the Czech Republic, and her son is in Georgia, she said. Her mother is not planning on leaving Ukraine, but Rusnak is worried about her son and hopes that he and her daughter-in-law can join her in the U.S., she told Colopelnic.
With the time zone differences, Rusnak has found it difficult to communicate with her family in real time, but she messages back and forth with loved ones every day and speaks with them on the phone when she can.
Colopelnic has played a coordinator role for Ukrainians seeking shelter in Central New York, arranging transportation for Rusnak and her colleagues to and from work. That can be tricky for the pastor and his community, who rely on a rotating schedule of volunteers who pick up the women working at the hospital before and after their shifts. Colopelnic is working to move Rusnak and her colleagues within walking distance of work so that they can facilitate their own commute without relying on a carpool network.
Cool’s in-laws pick Rusnak up from work if she’s in a bind, but she doesn’t like to inconvenience them.
Cool insists she and her family do not mind, that they want to do what they can for Rusnak to stay in her home. Rusnak said Cool has become a mother figure to her.
It is easy to forget the two come from different countries, generations and families, as they sit with their hands folded at the dining room table in the same way, decorative pins adorning the corners of their sweaters, glances that transcend language passing between them.
“I really don’t want her to go,” Cool said.
Read more ukraine coverage
Syracuse-area Ukrainians share their stories: Reflecting on One Year of War
Central Current was there last year to cover the local outpouring of grief and support when Russia waged war on Ukraine in Feb. 2022.
Reflecting on One Year of War: a Syracuse resident’s journey through Ukraine
Feb. 24 marked a year since Russia declared war on Ukraine. For ten months, Oleg Grabovyy left his home in Syracuse to help defend his native country. He spent time interpreting, training brigades of soldiers and delivering humanitarian aid.
Reflecting on One Year of War: Syracuse Ukrainian church congregants mourn, pray for peace
One year after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the local Ukrainian community gathered in Syracuse to mourn, remember lives lost and pray for peace.
Ukrainian students in Syracuse torn between homeland war, school
Central Current interviewed students with connections to Syracuse and Ukraine to better understand how members of the local college community have been impacted by the war in Ukraine.
Auburn couple opens home to Ukrainian refugee
Olena Abramova left her home in Bila Tserkva, Ukraine, to seek refuge in America with a couple located in Auburn, New York.
Syracuse Ukrainian Church community mourns Russian attack on homeland
An overflow crowd gathered at the 207 Tompkins St. church in Syracuse to pray for Ukraine as Russia invaded the country.