Rapid City man recalls life on the ground in Ukraine

The crisis in Ukraine has far-reaching impacts, including here in South Dakota. NewsCenter1's Darsha Nelson spoke with a Rapid City man whose been teaching in Ukraine for more than two decades.

RAPID CITY, S.D. — Duane Hettich is a teacher who has been in Ukraine since 1996, five years after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He’s from Rapid City, graduated from Central High and later from South Dakota Mines. He’s been teaching in cities around Ukraine ever since, most recently in a small town along the Romanian border.

“Half of my life was in Rapid City, and half of it spent in Ukraine,” Hettich says.

He says as time has passed, more and more Ukrainians chose the western sphere of influence in the name of independence…and freedom.

“For all the years I’ve been in Ukraine, it was 50/50 – half wanted to be in Europe, half wanted to be with Russia,” Hettich says. “But now, when it’s 70/30, that’s the problem; he [Putin] doesn’t want to lose Ukraine to NATO or to Europe, and more Ukrainians now want to be with Europe. And that’s why all of the sudden he decides that he’s going to take it back.”

And for those on the ground wanting to get out –

“I heard the line is long,” Hettich says. “We have American friends at the border still waiting right now and they’ve been waiting all day.”

Others are choosing to stay.

“There are many, many of our friends that say, ‘don’t worry about us, we’re going to be okay.’ They’re trusting that a higher power will keep them.”


Credit: UP9 / Wikimedia / CC BY-SA 3.0

Hettich says the relationship between Ukrainians and Russians – government aside – is like that of North and South Dakota.

But with the propaganda crafted by the Kremlin, the message muddies the water, and the perception that Russians want this takeover doesn’t equal the reality on the ground.

As the conflict continues, the people in cities, in villages, are now grappling with the days that lie ahead, and the prospect that the past may return.

“They can hardly believe it, you know,” Hettich adds. “But they do know how it was for communism, like the older ones…they…some things they liked; some things were good, but mostly not. The young ones don’t want to go through that…so they don’t want to live under that kind of system.”

Hettich says he hopes everyone will be okay; currently abroad in Brazil, he plans on returning to eastern Europe in the coming months.

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