Cedarville student from Ukraine reflects on war a year later: ‘Childhood fear now a reality’

Abigail Rist sees no end to fighting: ‘Ukraine’s not giving up its sovereignty.’

Born in the United States, Abigail Rist spent most of her first two decades in Ukraine, returning to America about four years ago to attend Cedarville University.

In January 2022, she traveled back to Ukraine to see friends and celebrate the new year.

“There were 100,000 troops already on the border when I went back,” Rist said. “Then 10 days later, everything blew up.”

Russia invaded and attacked Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, and nearly a year later, Rist said not a day goes by when she doesn’t think of the war and its impact on her home country and her friends who live there.

Rist remembers the early days of the war as she followed the news from Cedarville, especially the nights she couldn’t sleep because of it.

She remembered that growing up, the threat of Russia bombing Ukraine was always there.

“That was a background threat, a background fear. We never anticipated that to be come reality. So waking up on the 24th to find out that your childhood fear was now a reality, there’s just no way to process that or to fathom that,” Rist said.

Rist, who was born American and raised Ukrainian, was born in Michigan, moved to Ukraine when she was four months old and lived there in the capital Kyiv until 2019 when she came back to the U.S. to attend college at Cedarville. Her parents lived in Kyiv until 2021 when they moved to Detroit, Michigan.

“My parents are American, but when I was four months old my dad and family moved to Ukraine, and my dad was a professor over there for 20 years. I went through Ukrainian education, all of my friends, my family and friends who became like family are Ukrainian,” she said.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began in the early morning hours on Feb. 24, 2022, when Russia launched more than 100 missiles, intending on a quick strike that would destroy the country. Russia’s goal was to capture Kyiv so it could insert its own government.

Ground and air strikes have continued in Ukraine in the year since, but the Ukrainian people have continued to hold the Russian troops at bay.

Rist doesn’t see the conflict ending soon.

“Lord willing, the war ends, but Ukraine’s not giving up its sovereignty, and Russia’s not going to give up their pride, so I don’t see a quicker, easier resolution to this war anytime soon,” she said.

Rist is a senior in international studies and graduates in a few months.

Alina Leo, instructor of management at Cedarville, taught Rist in her international business class. She said Rist is committed to learning and a valuable contributor to class discussions.

“She was able to provide a very unique perspective to classroom discussions due to her experience of having lived in Ukraine. Some of the concepts and cultural examples we covered in class were not just a theory since Abigail experienced them firsthand while living overseas,” she said.

Leo added they often talked about Rist’s experiences growing up in Ukraine and compared them to her current life in the U.S. They have had several conversations about the war.

“She was heartbroken by the war and devastated by the suffering and destruction that was taking place,” she said. “I was able to relate to her because I was born in the Soviet Union and have relatives living in Ukraine.”

Although some of Rist’s friends’ homes have been destroyed in Kyiv, infrastructure has seen the most damage, she said.

On the second day of the war, the building right across from the one Rist lived in had most of the first couple stories knocked out, including the playground she, her friends and siblings all played on as kids.

With the war going on, many of Rist’s friends have rallied around and supported her.

“A lot of friends here at the university just came around me and have been praying a lot for me, a lot for my friends this past year,” she said.

Rist said her parents went back to Ukraine about a month ago for two weeks to take humanitarian aid, offer love from all of their friends, and to provide some support. She said a lot of people have also offered to give money, which her parents get to the local churches, seminaries or their pastor, who is on the front lines.

“People are gracious with prayers and financial support,” Rist said. “People are very eager to know what’s going on, always checking up.”

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