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Wright-Patt medic reflects on childhood in Ukraine

  • Published
  • By Robin McMacken, Skywrighter Staff
  • 88th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
As a child growing up amid unimaginable poverty in central Ukraine, Airman 1st Class Davyd Bielykh always envisioned moving to the United States and serving in the military.

“I wanted to be a Marine Corps infantry, as I thought it would be great to protect the United States,” he says, citing his tremendous support for the U.S. Constitution.

While in Ukraine, and “growing up having nothing,” Bielykh remembers watching American TV shows and movies. He witnessed the freedom, opportunities and chance for prosperity most Americans enjoyed. “And I wanted the same conditions,” he added.

Ultimately, he realized his dream and moved to the U.S. in December 2015 when he was 18; he joined the Air Force on April 14, 2020. He and his wife, Lena, also Ukrainian, have been married since 2019. They met at Sierra College in Rocklin, California.

Bielykh has been a medic at Wright-Patterson Medical Center for the past year and a half and calls his work “highly rewarding.”

“My scope of practice covers all EMT functions. And my specialty, as of right now, is a medical technician in the Labor and Delivery unit at WPAFB,” he said.

The 24-year-old’s steadfast faith also fueled his quest for a better life in the U.S. His compelling ­­­and patriotic story, eloquently told, unfolds as Russia continues its ravaging and relentless invasion of Ukraine.

“Davyd is such a valued member of our team and from the first day that he arrived, it was clear how thankful he was to be a member of the U.S. Air Force,” said Lt. Col. Jennifer McGough, Maternal Child Care Inpatient Flight commander and consultant for perinatal nursing at the 88th Inpatient Operations Squadron.

“His pride for his home country of Ukraine was also evident; and over the past few weeks, we know how much the crisis in Ukraine has affected him.” 

Added Capt. Nicole Savvidis, a nurse in his unit: “Despite how difficult it has been for him to watch from afar, Davyd still shows up to work with a smile on his face, and provides exceptional care to each and every one of his patients.”

Others in the 88th Medical Group hold Bielykh in equally high regard. Master Sgt. Portia Les’Pere and Tech. Sgt. Shawna Arab say they appreciate his professionalism and dedication to providing trusted care, even during this tough time.

In the meantime, Bielykh quietly taps into unending faith and hope that the Russia-Ukraine conflict quickly is resolved and healing begins.

“It was all great until (Feb. 24), when Russia started bombing Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, and then the whole country, where most of my family, friends and loved ones live,” he said. “Now, my heart is torn apart, and I have tears in my eyes … because most of what I love is dying under Russian aggression.”

Until he was about 12, Bielykh lived in a 110-year-old farmhouse. He says the weather in Ukraine is much like Ohio’s, with four distinct seasons. The restroom was outside; there was no shower. He said the family kept the home warm by using a stove, and their survival included “working on the farm with our hands only” in order to have food for the winter. His grandmother still lives in the house.

Likewise, Lena also worries about her family members in Ukraine. Her grandmother and sister escaped to Hungary, but she says other relatives living farther outside the capital remain there. When they hear sirens, they dash to the basements of their homes, she adds.

“Growing up in Ukraine - a country living under the USSR’s pressure for a long time, and finally getting free in 1991 (when Ukraine declared its independence) - wasn’t easy,” Bielykh said.

Although he recalls a weak economy and widespread corruption, the “people’s spirit was strong,” he said.

“People like my family and most of the Ukrainians, as I remember, were always fighting for their freedom, just like the 2004 Orange Revolution,” he said, during which Ukrainians protested Vladimir Putin’s corrupt influence on that year’s presidential election. “When I was a kid, I saw significant potential for Ukraine, but at the same time, I saw a lot of corruption and unclear actions from our government. That made me seek a better life outside of the country.

“I am working on myself and using all needed sources for that. My leadership (on base) is excellent and supportive. I am just waiting for this war to end, and Ukraine finally blooms and sees its sunshine.”

– Airman 1st Class Davyd Bielykh
“I just wanted a better life for myself, and I felt the courage to protect the country that takes care of its people. To me, it was - and is - the United States of America.”

Bielykh was a student at Sierra College when he met Lena, 28, a tutor there at the time. Lena had moved to the United States in 2014.

“And I was the one who helped him later with math,” she says, having earned her associate’s degree in business at the community college.

The Sacramento area, where the college is located, offered a wonderfully large and supportive community of Ukrainians, Lena recalled. Lena later earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration and human resources at the Sacramento campus of California State University. Today, she works as a freelance business consultant and helps startup companies.

Because most of their family members were in Ukraine, Bielykh and Lena flew to the historic port city of Odessa to celebrate their wedding in 2019.

That trip profoundly changed Bielykh’s perspective. “In 2019, I could see dramatic changes in Ukraine: People were inspired for a great future, and they were also taking steps to make it better,” he said.

“For first time in my adulthood, I looked at my home country through different eyes. I saw the beauty that is blooming and imagined a fantastic future.”  

He and Lena describe some of the culture, landscape and food they so cherish in their homeland. The gorgeous sunflowers, for instance, have been heralded as people around the world display the blossoms as a symbol of solidarity with Ukraine. Architecture is another aspect. One particularly impressive site, he said, is the Golden Gate of Kyiv, which was the main gate in the 11th-century fortifications of Kiev (today Kyiv).

For Lena, one of her favorite epicurean treats in Ukraine are the fluffy cottage cheese pancakes. She quickly adds the Ukrainian version of cottage cheese is more like farmer’s cheese. The pancakes are fried and topped with sour cream, jam or fresh berries.

The 2019 wedding trip to Ukraine fundamentally changed the couple’s vision for their family.

“After that visit, I started thinking that I wanted my future kids to know what a great country Ukraine is and have them live or visit at least a couple of times every year,” Bielykh said.

Although the prospect for a safe connection with Ukraine at this time seems somewhat unfathomable, Bielykh and Lena focus on giving to maintain a sense of peace, strength and structure in their lives here in Ohio.

“We needed to act and do our best to help the Ukrainian people, our people. Facebook was a good start,” he said. “We found a Ukrainian group from Cincinnati that also wanted to do something, and we decided to gather up. First, we had meetings in Dayton and Cincinnati streets to show other people that Ukraine needed help.

“Later on, we found a place for our meetings. Our goal was to create a well-directed route of actions. With cooperation and the same goal, we started getting donations. So far, we’ve sent humanitarian and financial help to those who are in need the most.”

As the couple keep overseas family and friends in their hearts and prayers, they respond, in a way much like sunflowers, to the sun’s rays and soak in the positive affirmations from near and far.

“I am working on myself and using all needed sources for that. My leadership (on base) is excellent and supportive,” he adds. “I am just waiting for this war to end, and Ukraine finally blooms and sees its sunshine.”