With Her Family Still in Ukraine, Florida Woman Clings to Hope That Her People's Fighting Spirit Will Prevail

Elena Ivy lives in Florida, but her parents, brother, sister-in-law and young niece live in Ukraine, where they remain as the fight to stop the Russian invasion continues.

Elena Ivy has barely slept since Russia invaded Ukraine. 

The 40-year-old may be safe in South Florida, far from the danger her fellow Ukrainians are facing, but her heart is with her parents, brother, sister-in-law, young niece and many friends who are still in war-torn Ukraine.

As Russian troops continue to bombard key cities in the region, Ivy is trying to remain strong and rely on her Christian faith to get her through. The small Ukrainian village where she grew up is located 100 miles from Kharkiv, the second-largest city in Ukraine that has been under attack. And with each passing hour and news of more bloodshed, her fears of uncertainty grow.

“We are heartbroken. We are barely sleeping at night. We are watching the news 24/7,” Ivy told Inside Edition Digital.

At time of publication, Ivy said she was still able to communicate with her parents, but if the communications and information infrastructures are hit, that may no longer be the case.

“Every moment I am checking on them. Every half hour, I am asking, ‘Are you OK?’ My biggest fear is that if I lose connection with them, I will not know if they are alive,” she said.

"I told her, 'There is no tomorrow. There is no school, no work, only war.'"

Each day the invasion continues brings with it the fear that something could happen to Ivy's loved ones. 

All she could do was sit and wait on Friday when Russian forces attacked and seized Europe's biggest nuclear power plant in an assault that sparked international condemnation and fears of a nuclear disaster. Ukrainian officials said a fire at the site had been extinguished, and there appeared to be no radiation leaks. But the fear of what could come next remained. 

And all she could do was sit and wait on Thursday when there were numerous reports that the port city of Mariupol, which occupies nearly 400,000 people, was hit with heavy shelling, and was in dire circumstances. Residents were trapped without power, heat, or water. Mariupol authorities said it was unclear how many people were able to evacuate, and how many have been killed or injured. 

In the city of Kharkiv, where roughly 1.2 million people live, there has been massive shelling by Russian forces that have left the city in ruin. About 19 miles outside of Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, and the most population at nearly 2.9 million, a Russian military convoy has been stalled, according to senior U.S. defense officials. Since the invasion, Russia has launched more than 480 missiles on Ukraine, authorities said. 

According to reports, Vladimir Putin’s forces have only been able to seize control of Kherson in the south. Kyiv, Kharkiv, Chernihiv and Mariupol have reportedly remained in Ukrainian hands, despite heavy Russian bombardment. 

Despite the grim outlook, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who remains in Kyiv, has been releasing regular video updates to the nation. On Thursday, he said Ukrainian lines were holding. "We have nothing to lose but our own freedom," he said, Reuters reported.

And, with three assassination attempts on his life that were thwarted, Zelenskyy remains defiant.

"(They say), 'I'm here, it's mine, and I won't give it away. My city. My community. My Ukraine,'" Zelenskyy said of the Ukrainian people's message for Russian troops. His message was transmitted on Monday evening and delivered from his government office, CNN reported

"Some powerful people have decided to give up on Ukraine. But we will not allow that," Zelenskyy said in an impassioned Facebook address Tuesday. In his message, he called on world leaders to supply "lifesaving" military aviation and anti-rocket systems, the news outlet reported.

"No one is hiding in fear. The spirit is strong. Ukrainians will fight for their country."

Ivy is trying to be strong for her family, who she said told her they have enough supplies of food and water. But the sting and astonishment that accompanied the news of the invasion still remains. 

“None of my friends and family living in Ukraine would actually believe the war would actually happen," she said. "They never thought Russians, who are our brothers and sisters, would actually dare do what their President wanted.”

Once she saw Russian troops were beginning to surround her country in the weeks before the invasion, she said she had a “bad feeling.” 

“My Ukrainian friends living abroad in Canada, Spain the U.S.— We were sure war would really happen," she said. "I called multiple times to my friends and my family offering help to evacuate before it started. It was like we had a crystal ball that we knew this would happen and this was not a joke.

"I never had a doubt that there would be a war," she continued. "People in Ukraine, on the contrary, had a very relaxed tone and felt that we [people in other countries] were being fed wrong information and that we were being negative."

She said she spoke to one friend in Ukraine 24 hours before the invasion. She said it was a “last attempt.”

“I told her, 'I think you should leave. You have two small children.' I told her to go to any destination she can possibly think of. She told me ‘I have work tomorrow.’ I told her, 'There is no tomorrow. There is no school, no work, only war,'" she said.

Her friend remained, and now is one of the thousands of people hiding in the shelters and praying that the war will end soon.

"We want to be independent. Nobody wants to go back to the Soviet Union. This is a very clear message from the Ukrainian people."

“I told them the war was coming, but all my family and friends said the same thing: ‘We know this can happen, but we hope it won’t," she said, getting emotional.

She paused to collect herself, noting it felt as if, “No one listened.”

Life has not been easy for those who did heed Ivy's and others' warnings or decided to leave once the invasion began. One friend walked to Romania with her baby. At the border, she was greeted by volunteers at the border who gave her hot soup and a warm blanket for her baby.

UN officials said nearly two million refugees have fled Ukraine since the invasion began. Thousands have refused to leave their country. 

Despite some of the country falling down, Ivy said, the Ukrainian state of mind is “We will win this war!” Many can be heard reciting one of the popular Ukrainian slogans: ”Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the Heroes!"

“People are very patriotic and united. No one is hiding in fear. The spirit is strong. Ukrainians will fight for their country. They are saying, ‘This is my home.’ ‘This is my land, and I am not leaving. I don’t ‘want to be a beggar or refugee and start my life from zero," she said.

Ivy's 65-year-old father and 35-year-old brother have signed up for the territorial defense. “They are ready to fight and protect,” she said.

“My father is a retiree and technically he can leave if he wants to, but they don’t want to leave their son behind," she said of her parents. "They don’t want to be separated. And, they don't want to leave their homes. Their life."

Nightfall is the most terrifying time, as it's when the attacks escalate. The sirens are loud and jarring, but they are the sign to run to the bomb shelters. There, Ivy's family spends their nights alongside mothers, babies, young children, the elderly grandparents, the disabled, and the sick, all of whom have uprooted their lives and are now living inside metro stations unable to return to their homes.

But even after developing such a dystopian routine, Ivy's family remains in danger. Everyone has had or knows someone who has had a close call, and her family is among them; a drone hit not far from their home. 

War and the life that accompanies it finally came for the generation who were taught to avoid it at all costs. "People my age have a strong connection to the Second World War because our grandparents lived through the war," Ivy said. "When we were children, I grew up with this fear of hunger. It has been in our heads since we were little children.

"It's frustrating that I cannot convince my family to leave. Many of my friends left, and the men stayed to fight. I am scared for them, of course, but my family made their choice to stay," she continued. 

Despite the death and despair happening around them, she said that her family is "staying strong and believe we will win."

On Monday, the United Nations Human Rights Office released the official figures around the number of civilian deaths since the invasion began, warning the real number could be much higher. According to the report, 406 civilians, including 27 children, have died, with a further 801 people reported injured.

“This is the most heartbreaking,” Ivy said. “We have a country where we elected our own president. We want to be independent. Nobody wants to go back to the Soviet Union. This is a very clear message from the Ukrainian people. Ukraine is not part of Russia. It was never part of Russia. People are peaceful without guns. They are trying to stop Russian tanks and the Russian military, asking them to go away and go back to their home, which is another country.

“Our biggest fear is that this is not the end," she continued. "It is not only Ukraine who will suffer. People in Europe are at risk. We are all at risk. This has to stop.”

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