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Ukraine exchange student in Arkansas shares her story: Pride, fears, war

Sofiia Vovk came to Arkansas in Aug. of 2021 as an exchange student from Ukraine. Little did she know she'd be watching her country make headlines six months later.

SHERWOOD, Ark. — Many are trying to keep in touch with their loved ones in Ukraine as the war continues. 

This includes one exchange student at Sylvan Hills High School who checks in with her parents every five hours just to make sure they're okay.

Sofiia Vovk came to Sylvan Hills High School in August of 2021 as an exchange student. 

Little did she know she'd be watching her country make headlines just six months later.

"It's heartbreaking to watch. I'm actually getting anxious, but I can't hide from this," she said.

Those emotions of fear and heartbreak, Vovk said, weigh on her daily because she knows her family and friends are stepping up to fight while she's here in America.

"I feel embarrassed that I feel this because my friends, my family are there and they're feeling a bigger amount. They're as scared as me, but it feels like I don't deserve to feel this because I'm not there," she said.

Vovk saw videos of her city being bombed while she scrolled through Instagram the night of February 23, confused about what was happening.

She waited anxiously for a response from her parents.

"It was a dark night, and I didn't sleep well, really well. I didn't sleep at all actually," she said.

Knowing there's only so much she can do, all Vovk does is pray and hope while teaching her classmates about the world she grew up in.

"Since I was nine, I was constantly seeing the war. I feel like it led to me getting mature earlier," she said.

That resiliency and smile is how Vovk carries herself, no matter what's going on. 

Characteristics that are touching the lives of many, like her debate teacher Jennifer Alaquinez.

"Sofiia is my hero because look what she's done. And I tell Sofiia that, when I cry, it's not about sadness. It's because I'm so proud of how she represents her country," she said.

Meanwhile, there are still several unanswered questions about when Vovk could go back home.

"I don't know anything, like I don't know if my friends and family are going to stay alive. Are they safe? Am I going to go back? It's just all huge question. I don't know what's going to happen," she said.

Something that is pretty clear is that when Vovk leaves, the impact she has on this campus will never go away.

"We take advantage of our freedoms, and the fact that she was talking about how just people are being bombed in their cars. She opened their eyes that they live in that fear, and we don't even have any concept," she said.

The day after Russia invaded Ukraine, Vovk continued to compete in a debate tournament. She ended up qualifying for state, which is April 1 and 2. 

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