TAMPA, Fla. — More than 11 million people have now fled Ukraine since Russia’s invasion, according to the United Nations. Thousands of Americans are rushing in to help, including a local Ukrainian nurse who just got back.
“It was difficult to watch, and difficult to see in person,” said Sergiy Omelayenko.
During our zoom interview, he bowed his head as he described feeling sad, angry and fearful being back in his country seeing all the “devastation.”
“Those streets bombed, I was out there as a child,” he said. “I hung out with my friends. I danced there. I fell in love there. I had my first kiss there.”
Sergiy moved to America with his mother and father when he was just a kid. The rest of his family, including his brother and sister, stayed in Ukraine. He said he and his parents would go back often for vacation. That was the point of his recent trip, which he planned a year ago.
He had to change his plans after Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine.
“I had this inner urge to come back and try to rescue it. It sounds kind of silly,” he said. “But I wanted to rescue the memories and help Ukraine and my family in some way.”
Thanks to his USF training as a Nurse Anesthetist, Sergiy was more than equipped to jump in and help. He also brought tons of medical supplies that were donated to him and his own Ultrasound machine. That machine is in high demand, according to officials.
Before coming back to America, Sergiy helped get his 6-month-old nephew over to Poland. He said his sister couldn’t take him because she couldn’t leave her husband. He said leaving to come back home was difficult because he had to leave his grandparents, siblings, nieces and nephews. Also, he found out his oldest friend died in combat.
“He was buried about two weeks ago,” he said. “It’s all just hard.”
According to the United Nations, more than 14,200 people have died so far.