New Lenox’s Greg Aimaro constantly watches the news reports on the situation in Ukraine.
Aimaro lived in Chernihiv from September 2021 to February. He is still paying rent on his apartment and had planned to live in Ukraine for several years, he said.
“When everything got really intense, I went home,” Aimaro said. “I have a lot of friends there at the moment. … It’s very nightmarish what’s going on there.
Aimaro said it was frustrating not being able to protect his friends. Fortunately, they still have internet, so Aimaro can communicate with them. He also helps them with money transfers when he can, Aimaro said.
For security reasons, a friend of hers went with her husband and daughter to their summer home in a village near the area which was later attacked, Aimaro said.
“They are in this village and it is surrounded by Russians,” Aimaro said.
Aimaro said he became interested in Ukraine because of his family history. His great-grandfather was from Pryluky in northern Ukraine. He was Jewish and the only one of two brothers who came to the United States during the German occupation of the region, which saved his life.
“I’m very grateful, actually,” Aimaro said. “Because if my great-grandfather hadn’t moved from there, I would never have been born.”
Aimaro said he studied Russian in 2014 when he was a student at Lewis University in Romeoville. After graduation, he studied Ukrainian at the Ukrainian Research Institute, Harvard University and Indiana University, where he wrote his master’s thesis on the German occupation of the region, he said.
His first trip to Ukraine was in 2015, which was also the first time he visited Pryluky. From 2017 to 2019, Aimaro taught English at Pryluky through GoCamp, which runs free language camps across Ukraine, according to the GoCamp website. Aimaro said he also taught English at Nizhyn.
“Ukraine is a very poor country,” Aimaro said. “I think it’s the poorest country in Europe. So helping the children there learn English, giving them the opportunity to improve their lives, is something very rewarding for me.
During this time, Aimaro researched archives and met people who connected him with a few people who survived the German occupation, Aimaro said.
“They helped arrange accommodation for me and provide me with food, all at their own expense,” Aimaro said.
Since living in Ukraine, Aimaro has volunteered for the non-governmental organization Anomaly, which offers “unconventional solutions to Ukraine’s problems…from education to social reform,” according to his Facebook page.
Aimaro said his primary role was to connect organizations associated with the Anomaly with academic institutions. He was also to teach history at a local university, he said.
“The town where I was living – they bombed residential buildings there today,” Aimaro said on Thursday. “The archive where I did my research for my subject was in a building hit by Russian artillery shells. Apparently the archive burned down. So all the documents related to the Stalin period, the Nazi occupation, they are all destroyed.This in itself is a huge loss and a huge tragedy.
Aimaro hopes to be able to help refugees in Poland or Romania.
“I love these people,” he said. “I speak their language. I speak Ukrainian and I also speak Russian. I can be useful.
Aimaro hopes a ceasefire will happen soon or that some safe corridors will be opened so civilians can escape, he said. Aimaro said the people of Ukraine need prayers, which is a way for everyone to help them.
Yet he is very proud of the Ukrainian army.
“He fought very well and protected, for the most part, all the towns in the form of a takeover. But that can change from day to day,” Aimaro said. “The Russians have them outgunned and outnumbered.”