Middlebury community stands behind stranded Ukrainian exchange student

Published: Mar. 30, 2022 at 5:41 PM EDT
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MIDDLEBURY, Vt. (WCAX) - A Ukrainian exchange student in Middlebury has endured the past horrifying month watching the invasion of her homeland from over 4,000 miles away while also making a mark in her adopted community.

When 15-year-old Diana Herasim earned a prestigious scholarship to study in the United States, she never thought a Russian invasion was just months away. “When the whole world started talking about the possibilities that it may happen, it was hard to believe because it’s hard when all the things are about your country, where I come from,” Herasim said.

She’s been studying at Middlebury Union High School since August but her father, brother, and grandparents are back home in Ukraine. She says her brother and grandparents recently moved north from the south for safety, but before that, she couldn’t get a hold of them for weeks. “I was just reading the news that articles about numerous explosions in the area and just hoping that it’s not where they are,” Herasim said. Her father is still in her home city, which is occupied by Russia. “When I’m calling him, the only sounds I hear is the explosions and the missiles every time, so it is hard.”

Herasim is proud of her country. “I am trying to do as much as I can to help my country and my people,” she said. And so is the Middlebury Union High School community.

“It’s very easy to watch the news and after a while get weary of what’s going on and get desensitized. The more she can tell the story from her personal perspective, I think, it keeps it real,” said Michelle Rath, an MUHS counselor.

Ukrainian flags cover the walls and people’s clothes and the school hosted a vigil Tuesday in support of Herasim and Ukraine. Herasim says her host family has been supportive, too, even cooking her some traditional Ukranian dishes. “It was so nice. It actually made me feel like at home,” she said.

There’s no telling when Herasim will return home but she knows it’s not safe now. She says she’s been offered a place at MUHS and some other schools in the U.S. to continue her education.

“This smiling young girl... and then I think about what has happened. It’s a tragedy that a person would have to change the events around her life in such a short amount of time,” said David Rose, a liason with the exchange program.

Herasim’s mission is now to share her story and be an ambassador for her country. “What happened is not what was supposed to happen. So, I’m just trying to share with people that the wonderful culture of Ukraine is not just war, is not all that people are hearing just right now -- it’s arts, music, sports, boxing,” she said.

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