Ukrainian student in Miami has a “heavy guilt feeling”

Growing up in Ukraine shaped FIU International Business student Maksym Kazimir. He grew up in a time when Ukraine was a newly independent country and still trying to find its footing. Now, he watches from far away as his homeland becomes war torn. 

Maksym, 20, came to the U.S. and FIU back in 2020. Currently, he is in his junior year at the university. He said since Ukraine was a fairly new country while he was growing up, it definitely was not perfect. 

“It had certain disadvantages but people still managed to take advantage of things,” Kazimir told SFMN. “It made you think more critically in certain moments because not everything in Ukraine is done step-by-step. You have to work individually on many things.”

Growing up there gave him the ability to take initiative and act independently on many tasks. He grew up having to rely on himself. 

Choosing to go to the United States for university was a decision that he made on his own.

“I was always impressed with the United States as a country,” said Kazimir. “I was reading a lot about the economy, how people live here. People are always smiling here.”

In Miami, Kazimir sees a big difference from Ukraine. Here people live their best lives compared to the more serious world they had back home. 

In the back of his mind, there was always fear of a Russian invasion. When he was just 12 years old, there was a revolution in Kyiv. Ukrainians wanted to be integrated into the European Union. During this time, Russia occupied Crimea and launched a military operation in Eastern Ukraine. Though this was localized to a specific area, Kazimir can still remember having nightmares of having Russian tanks by his window.  However, the war still came as a shock and he never thought it would be this large of a war. 

All of his family is back home in Ukraine and most of his friends are back in Ukraine as well.  Luckily for him, he is able to keep in touch with them still and know that they are safe. 

“Of course, I’m still worried about my family because we cannot predict the actions of the Russian military,” said Kazimir. “The whole world is scared of the possibility of a third world war. The war has already started in Ukraine and there is no completely safe region there right now.” 

When Kazimir learned that war had officially broken out in Ukraine, he was in Miami. He happened to be taking an online exam. 

“I remember it was like February 24th and I was taking the exam,” said Kazimir. “Eventually, my phone started going crazy because people started calling me. There were a lot of notifications that my phone was about to explode. It was a proctored exam so I couldn’t answer. Once I submitted my exam, I read that there were ballistic rockets in Kyiv. Honestly, it was a nightmare. Me and my Ukrainian friends didn’t sleep for three days because we couldn’t.”

He said every hour he was texting his friends and families, desperate to get confirmation of their safety. 

Currently, his family made it to Kyiv to Western Ukraine. Though, like he said earlier, there were no completely safe regions in Ukraine, at least in Western Ukraine there are no land-based attacks. 

Making it through his days knowing his homeland is under attack is no easy feat. He finds it difficult to keep living his life in Miami knowing what is going on back home. 

“There is a feeling of being guilty when I’m here in a warm Miami, where everyone is happy or everything is alright and the world keeps running,” said Kazimir. “Meanwhile, all my friends, family and the Ukrainian people are in their most devastating war since World War II. So it is a very heavy guilt feeling of not being with close ones during this difficult time. You yourself feel useless because what can you do from all the way in Miami?”

He finds hope within President Zelenskyy’s leadership and describes him as a leader of the people. 

“He really tried his best to actually keep the spirit of Ukrainians alive, even before the Russian invasion,” said Kazimir. “He managed to make people believe in our army. We are much stronger than our enemy. He pretty much made the whole world observe our situation and we are very happy with the work of our president in this situation.” 

His views Russian President Vladimir Putin as a terrorist. 

“That’s terror on the government level. It’s very scary to think that this is the largest country that is committing terrorist acts against people,” Kazimir said. 

Despite all the terror he has felt in the last few months, he finds a sense of community with other Ukrainian FIU students. He attends rallies with them that have been organized by Ukrainians who live in Florida. 

“Right now we organized and are working on creating a special fund to send humanitarian supplies to Ukraine,” said Kazimir. 

What he misses about Ukraine is his culture, the unique architecture and the Ukrainian mentality. But, of course, what he mostly misses his family. 

“Of course, I miss my family,” said Kazmir. “ I feel guilty that I cannot hug my sister or my mother and say that everything will be alright.”

Gabriela Enamorado is a junior at Florida International University majoring in journalism and minoring in History. She grew up in Fort Lauderdale and hopes to one day work for a magazine or newspaper.