Thursday, November 24 2022

There was Kyle Varner, a physician at Providence Holy Family Hospital; Jared Malone, a Navy veteran who works as a counselor in Post Falls; Marty Becker, a vet who lives in Bonners Ferry.

Journal spokesman Eli Francovich interviewed all three and several others with ties to eastern Washington and northern Idaho who traveled to Eastern Europe this year to help Ukrainian refugees.

Francovich spent six weeks in Ukraine, Poland and Romania writing stories and taking photos for Spokesman-Review readers. There are over 30,000 Ukrainian Americans in Spokane County.

He shared those stories and his own experiences with a crowd of about 100 Tuesday night at the Montvale Event Center in downtown Spokane as part of The Spokesman-Review’s Northwest Passages series.

Francovich was the first reporter in the paper’s nearly 140-year history to cover a war. The Spokesman-Review was one of the few local newspapers across the country to send a reporter to cover Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its fallout.

Besides local doctors and military veterans, Francovich spoke with countless Ukrainian refugees who have traveled long miles and days to seek safety in Poland. He mainly used his cell phone to translate, but also relied on helpful humans on a few occasions.

Most of the refugees Francovich spoke to were not wealthy because most wealthy Ukrainians had fled by the time he arrived in Eastern Europe, he said.

Francovich said he was a few hundred miles from the front lines of the war, but “stress was in the air.”

There were military checkpoints and air raid sirens in Lviv, where he spent time in a hotel, but there were also people who went about their day as if a war was not taking place.

“It was an odd juxtaposition of normal life and then this stress and strain of war,” he said. “I had never experienced anything like it.”

Francovich said he had two main takeaways from his experience.

The first is that Americans like him don’t know what war is because there hasn’t been one on this nation’s soil since the Civil War.

“You just can’t tell,” Francovich said, adding that he was 300 or 400 miles away from the fights, but he felt it.

The second takeaway was the beauty of the humanitarian response for refugees, but Francovich said he hopes people don’t politicize it.

“We have to remember that there is real suffering,” he said.

Additionally, Christine Holbert, founder of Lost Horse Press, recited poetry — in English and Ukrainian — from one of her books in the Ukrainian Poetry Series on Tuesday night. She said she started the series to honor her nationality, her parents and her ancestors.

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