Iowa Stands with Ukraine

How the Russian attacks on Ukraine are affecting Iowa City residents


Anastacia Laux

Iowa City residents march to the Old Capitol in support of Ukraine.

Rebecca Michaeli, News Editor

Natasha Laux has lived in The United States for the past 28 years, although she grew up in Kyiv, Ukraine, a city that Russia is currently attempting to gain control of.

Laux resided in the Eastern European country of Ukraine until she was 19, when she immigrated to the United States. To this day, her uncle, cousins, friends, and distant relatives still live in Ukraine.

“Periodically throughout all these years, I have been visiting Ukraine. My husband, my daughter, and myself have traveled all over the country, and we visited in 2015, right after the Ukrainian [Revolution of Dignity] in 2014,” Natasha Laux said.

Ukraine was formerly a part of the Soviet Union with its bordering country of Russia, until the fall of the Soviet State in 1991. For 22 years, since 2000, Vladimir Putin has been the president of Russia. Volodymyr Zelenskyy is the president of Ukraine, having been elected to the position in 2019.

The Russian-Ukrainian war has been occurring for over 8 years, though Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022 severely escalated the conflict. President Putin hopes to gain control of Ukraine, overturn its current government, with the goal of ending the country’s desire to join NATO.

“Right now it’s quite overwhelming because [the war] has been going on for so long. Some days it’s very stressful to listen to the news especially when things are getting worse and worse,” Natasha Laux expressed. “At the same time, I can’t ignore it. My friends who have close ties with Ukraine they can’t ignore it either. We keep watching the news, we watch every update possible.”

Natasha Laux’s daughter, Anastacia Laux, is a junior at City High. Because her mother is from Ukraine, Anastacia has grown up being around and influenced by Ukrainian culture.

“I’ve grown up in a family where I’ve been really influenced by Ukrainian culture. The way I’ve been raised has changed my perspective. I have noticed the ways I think have been influenced by my culture,” Anastacia Laux said. “The community I’m surrounded by is a group of Ukrainians and Russians who live in Iowa City, so growing up in this environment has really impacted who I am and the identity that I connect with.”

The current reality that Ukrainians in the country are facing has caused concern for their friends and families. Many communicate with their loved ones overseas via Facebook, WhatsApp, and Skype; all platforms that support overseas use without fees.

“We have some relatives we’ve been really worried about, but fortunately they’ve been able to get out of the dangerous, more risky zones. So we have been keeping in touch with them,” Anastacia Laux said.

According to Statista, as of March 27, 2022, there have been 1,151 civilian casualties in Ukraine and 1,824 injuries.

“For myself, it’s impossible right now to seperate my life here in the United States from what’s going on in Ukraine. It’s not just the Russia/Ukraine war. It’s also a global conflict that is affecting everybody,” Natasha Laux said.

Natasha Laux has been receiving inquiries from her friends and family asking how they can send aid to families in Ukraine. In response to the requests, Natasha made a post on Facebook with links to donate to friends and family in Ukraine whom she personally knows.

“I wish [the war] ended today, but it hasn’t. We’re just looking for any positive news. Some days are worse than others. I have no doubt Ukraine will win, it might just take longer than we wish. The spirit of the people is so strong, it’s unbreakable,” Natasha Laux said.

Natasha and Anastacia Laux attended one of the March For Ukraine protests in downtown Iowa City to show support.

“[The march] was very friendly. I think almost  the whole world is with Ukraine. It’s important to go and show your support. Even though we live in a smaller town, it’s still important to get out there. It still matters,” Natasha Laux said.

Veronica Tessler was one of the lead organizers of the protests in Iowa City to demonstrate support for Ukraine.

Tessler’s father is an immigrant born in Kyiv, Ukraine in 1950. Because Tessler’s family is Jewish, they left Ukraine in 1973 due to the religious persecution of Jews in the Soviet Union. Tessler’s family is ethically Ashkenazi Jewish, not Ukrainian, though they lived in Ukraine for many years.

“When Russia invaded [Ukraine] on February 24, I was shaken. This is so heavy to keep up with. I think we’re all trying to figure out a way to balance keeping up with the news and protecting our own mental health, which sounds very privileged,” Tessler said. “We have the privilege of being able to turn off war like a spectator sport.”

After Russia’s attack on Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Tessler connected with a Ukrainian graduate student at the University of Iowa. Together, they have organized two rallies in support of Ukraine, along with creating a Facebook group to create a statewide community.

“[High schoolers] can help. They can organize, raise money, educate their peers and others about what’s going on in Ukraine, and the misinformation being spread,” Tessler said. “That’s the fight that will continue beyond whatever happens on the ground in Ukraine. We pray that a resolution is found very quickly.”

Tessler and her co-organizers have created a Google Document full of resources regarding the war and action that can be taken. Additionally, information on news and upcoming local protests can be found on the “Iowa Stands With Ukraine” Facebook group.

“The most important thing is to listen, watch and read reliable sources. The biggest weapon against Russian propaganda is to educate young people on how to select the correct sources of information and follow those sources,” Laux said. “[Truth] is the main weapon we can employ.”