Ukrainian Springwood student about to graduate, reflects on journey and family still in war-torn country

Published 9:00 am Saturday, May 13, 2023

Moving to a new school in seventh grade can feel like moving to a new world with a whole new language and customs to learn. For Khrystyna Krevenko, in a way, that’s exactly what it was.

Krevenko moved to Lanett, Alabama, from Ukraine when she was 12 years old with her mother and stepfather, Kateryna and Dale Walls. This year, she is graduating from Springwood School. 

The curriculum was very challenging in Ukraine. Whereas in the U.S., Krevenko said her teachers were very willing to provide guidance. 

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“The teachers are very nice,” Krevenko said. “They will help you.” 

During her first year, she struggled to keep up with the work. She said having to learn the material in English added a new layer of difficulty to every assignment.

“I remember science class, and we had to read so many passages about science, and this is like difficult to understand on my language,” Krevenko said. “It’s more difficult to understand in English.”

Still, Krevenko knew she had to push herself to translate every single word rather than just copying it down. By the end of the year, it had become much easier.

“Being here, I think people that are from different countries and move to another country, they learn to adapt quickly,” Krevenko said. 

Luckily, Springwood had an advantage over most schools to help her adjust. With the international program, Krevenko could engage with students who understood what she was going through. 

“It was very difficult, but then I found a lot of friends here, mostly international students because we have something in common,” Krevenko said. “And I really like Springwood for having the international program.”

Krevenko’s family lives in Kyiv. From the food to the culture to the people, life in Lanett is very different from back home.

“Life is very different from here. There’s different food, different culture, definitely, people are different here too,” Krevenko said. “They’re very open and nice.”

For one thing, in Ukraine, she would’ve graduated a year earlier. Another difference is that Kyiv had more public transportation and more sidewalk accessibility. She was close enough to walk to her afterschool classes like art or violin lessons from home. 

As much as she misses her family, it has been hard to visit and then have to say goodbye again.

“My family is still in Ukraine,” Krevenko said. “So I visit like every year, and the war is very difficult on us. We have to risk our lives to visit home … So it’s very difficult emotionally.”

Since the war between Russia and Ukraine began, Krevenko and her family have had to face danger to return home to their loved ones. 

“This winter, my grandfather died so during the holidays I had to go there. I had dual enrollment during that time, which was very difficult for me,” Krevenko said. “Plus, bombs will go off while you try to grieve, and it’s very difficult.”

While Krevenko and her family were at the cemetery grieving her grandfather’s death, the Ukrainian military shot down a missile near them. They had to run away to find safety.

Krevenko said that she thinks the circumstances in Ukraine are worse than the media shows. During her visit, she said the water was shut off. The electricity would only come on after dark.

“Especially during winter when days are shorter, you have to sit in the dark,” Krevenko said.

Krevenko wishes that she had more opportunities to travel at Springwood. She believes it’s important for young people to be exposed to new cultures.

After graduation, Krevenko plans to attend Auburn University. Inspired by her roots, she plans to become an architect and design buildings.

“Growing up in Kyiv, there’s a lot of architecture and old buildings and new buildings,” Krevenko said. “And there’s just a lot of old holidays I associate with buildings because that’s where we live and our environment. And I think I want to build something like that.”