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Ukrainian woman shares message with her former Arkansas high school

Lakeside High School welcomed a former Ukrainian exchange student back into the classroom, who spoke to current students about her experience in Ukraine.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — Friday marked a homecoming for Mariia Dubinova as she returned to Lakeside High School. Unfortunately, her return wasn't for a trip down memory lane.

"I woke up at 6 a.m., I heard some explosions and I heard people screaming in my dorm," she said.

Dubinova is back at Lakeside because her home is under attack – she's from Ukraine. She was studying in Kyiv when Russia invaded.

She fled from the country with her cousin, passing through Poland, Montenegro, Croatia and then Turkey before finally making it stateside. 

During that journey, it was help from Arkansas that helped her make her return back.

"My host dad, Robert, just texted me like, if you can just try to go back to Arkansas, we'll be happy to have you here," she said.

Robert Mueller has been hosting exchange students like Dubinova since the 80's. He keeps in touch with many of them, including Dubinova.

When he heard what was happening in Ukraine, he immediately stepped in to make sure she was safe.

"Just in case, and remember we'll help you anyway we can if something happens,"  he said.

That help came in the form of helping Dubinova obtain a visa. 

Mueller said he never thought he'd be in this situation with an exchange student, but he'd do it all over again if he had to.

"She's family, you know?" Mueller said. "She's like a daughter."

Mueller isn't the only one who kept up with Dubinova. Lewis Jolly is a world history teacher at Lakeside, and had Dubinova in class. 

When other students heard that she was in Arkansas, they asked if Dubinova could speak about what she'd experienced.

"She's been through what most adults couldn't handle," Jolly said.

It's something Jolly said most students wouldn't be able to hear had it not been for Mueller helping her flee.

For Dubinova, she said this was important to share and while the Russian invasion seems a world away for many in the state, it's still very much real for her.

"So I just feel like it's a different experience when somebody from there tells you about it," Dubinova said. "And for Ukrainians right now, it's just really important to increase awareness so that the world knows what's going on."

   

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