Photo courtesy Janis Traven: In this photo, Janis Traven’s cousins Igor and Viktor sit next to another family member when they visited New Jersey during 1990. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has left family’s with difficult decisions over whether to stay or flee their home country.
Photo courtesy Janis Traven: In this photo, Janis Traven’s cousins Igor and Viktor sit next to another family member when they visited New Jersey during 1990. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has left family’s with difficult decisions over whether to stay or flee their home country.

Janis Traven sees similarities between the violence that took place in Ukraine when her grandparents were growing up and to what is taking place now with Russia’s invasion of the country.

Traven, who lives in Magnolia, said Ukraine was a dangerous place for Jewish families, including her own, who were frequently the target of violence in the early 20th century. She said her grandfather told her that he used to sing to her grandmother before they were married to woo her. Then one day, he saw one of his relatives killed in front of him, and he lost his voice.

“I think there are a lot of people who are not going to be able to sing any more in Ukraine,” Traven said. “It’s just heartbreaking.”

Since Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, Traven has paid close attention to what is taking place in Ukraine, where she has cousins and extended family.

Traven has two cousins, Viktor and Igor, from Zaporozhiya, and another, Yulia, who lives near Chernihiv, with whom she communicates through Facebook Messenger and text as much as she can.

Traven said, other than sending support and messages, she has not been able to do more, although she offers and would certainly help.

“I don’t know how to send stuff to them to get it there,” Traven said. “I told them if there’s anything we can do....”

For now, Traven just waits for their messages and hopes they are well. Some of her extended family left the country early after the invasion, whereas Igor only left recently.

According to a message Traven received May 8 from her cousin Victor,  Igor left Ukraine and arrived in Beer Sheva, Israel, with his eldest daughter.

“The trip was successful but dangerous,” Viktor wrote. “The bus route was bombarded with rockets and Russian planes.”

Traven said, as of that message, Viktor was still in Ukraine, as was his son, Andrei, who is a thoracic surgeon and has to stay because his medical experience and skills are critical and needed.

Traven said she is regularly horrified hearing about the growing number of deaths and destruction in Ukraine, including places that are meaningful to her family. When Babi Yar outside of Kyiv, was bombed, she could only wonder about the cemetery where her grandmother is buried. 

“I don’t know, and there’s no way to know, and it doesn’t really matter whether her grave was disrupted,” Traven said. “Every day is just a confirmation of just how monstrous Putin is and how monstrous his army is and how monstrous war is.”

Traven is also frustrated that Americans’ interest in what is taking place in Ukraine is slowly waning.

“Honestly, I think it’s going on too long to maintain the interest of most Americans,” she said. ... “It’s an amazing story about resilience and clever people fighting with monsters, and unless the footage on TV changes, and unless there’s something new or bigger or more monstrous, I think that a lot of people are tuning out, and that’s kind of nauseating.”

Traven said she wishes she knew what should be done to end the war in Ukraine and rebuild the country, but she thinks, regardless, the impacts will be felt for a long time, from refugees who fled the country to the economic  impacts to Ukraine and other countries. She said she also doesn’t know how far the United States should go to help, especially since Russia has threatened to retaliate with nuclear weapons.

“I’m stuck between thinking that we should avoid nuclear war, but it also seems like the only way that Putin is going to be stopped is through some show of force,” Traven said.