Darya Rohava wraps herself in a Belarussian flag as she joins her boyfriend Stas Reymer in a Ukrainian flag for a protest in Chicago. (Photo courtesy of Darya Rohava)
Darya Rohava wraps herself in a Belarussian flag as she joins her boyfriend Stas Reymer in a Ukrainian flag for a protest in Chicago.

Photo courtesy of Darya Rohava

I can’t even come back because they are going to put me in the jail

April 19, 2022

In 2019, Darya Rohava moved to New York from Belarus and started dating Stas Reymer who immigrated to New York from Ukraine. Three years later, Rohava and Reymer find themselves in a larger conflict than their long distance relationship. Belarus remains one of Russia’s strongest allies and it has never been more apparent than during this conflict. All of Rohava’s family resides in Belarus and as a result of propaganda and blocked information, they remain strong supporters of Putin’s actions. In drastic contrast, her social media presence expresses strong opposition to Russia’s actions through the reposting of content that is not visible to people in Belarus and Russia.

“I do not have any anger [towards my Russian friends] anymore, I understand that living in the isolated country and finding the actual true new sources is pretty hard for an average citizen,” Reymer said of his Russian friends supporting the actions of Putin. “Most people don’t know much about politics, and didn’t know it at all before the war started, they just don’t want to waste their time to understand now.”

Rohava and Reymer have both experienced a lot of tension with friends and family in their respective countries. Since Ukraine was once part of the USSR, much of the country speaks Russian and therefore have connections that span across Russia and Belarus. However, this connection continues to suffer as information isn’t being presented in Belarus and Russia the same way it is being presented in the United States and Ukraine.

Everyday my day begins by reading the news article that were posted while I was asleep.”

— Stas Reymer

“When the war started, I was trying to prove to them that what they are thinking and saying is wrong, but the time passed, and I realized that it is a waste of time,” Reymer said. “Everyday my day begins by reading the news articles that were posted while I was asleep.”

Through spreading awareness, the two hoped the information would get to their friends and family overseas in order to share the censored information in their home countries and the surrounding areas. However, these actions could result in extreme consequences for Rohava and prevent her from visiting her home country without great consequences.

“I used to love [Belarus]. I used to love even the government. But now I hate it because I can’t even come back because they are going to put me in jail [for four year]  for what I was posting, just for this one picture that I posted with the flag and me,” Rohava said. “If they see what I posted on my story, it would be 12 years or something.”

In Russia and Belarus, the generation gap between the younger and older people is similar to that of the United States. Rohava still communicates with a handful of friends in Belarus who don’t support the actions being taken in the way their elders do.

I used to love [Belarus]. I used to love even the government. But now I hate it because I can’t even come back because they are going to put me in jail [for four year]  for what I was posting, just for this one picture that I posted with the flag and me.”

— Darya Rohava

“The younger generation, of course they’re all not supporting, but almost all of the old people, they do support it. So, because they have so many young people and they were of course going to the protest, they were seeing it all with their eyes,” Rohava said. “So now they’re kicking people, I heard so many stories on Instagram, like how they were raping people.”

Apart from the friends Rohava maintained overseas, Reymer struggled to keep consistent communication with people in Ukraine as events unraveled in rapid succession.

“I stand by Ukrainians, and I will always do. I’ve got 50 percent of my friends from there who left the country, and the other half is still there,” Reymer said.

Rohava and Reymer struggled to connect with their peers like many other Eastern Europeans during this time. The inability to understand the conflict from the perspective of someone with deeper connections to the countries led many to use the news to make generalizations about the perspectives immigrants from each country have. The immigrant community is very closely connected to each other and statewide, Rohava hears experiences other Russian immigrants are having.

“In school, people in [a girls] class were saying that she’s a killer and her family’s a killer. Doesn’t matter that her mom’s helping [Ukraine] right now and that stuff. But they were telling her that she’s a killer,” Rohava said. “I feel like now when somebody asks me ‘what language you speak’ or something, I don’t really wanna say I speak Russian, but I do speak Russian. But when I saying this I’m like, ‘but I also understand Ukrainian.'”

Rohava continues to post information on her social media to spread awareness about ways to help Ukraine that are legitimate as many people are unaware of what Ukraine is actually in need of.

“I heard from Ukrainian bloggers that now, they don’t need any clothes that someone used to wear or something. They don’t need this. They need medicine,” Rohava said. “They almost don’t have any pain reliefs and it’s more like they need medical care.”

Additionally, many other Eastern European content creators are using their platform from overseas to share information about the conflict that isn’t being shown to the media in the United States.

“There is this Z letter and it’s now like showing support for Putin,” Rohava said. “So this is what they’re doing in the preschools and that stuff with the kids and taking pictures.”

During our interview, Rohava showed several examples of the uncovered parts of the conflict from bloggers overseas. One example included the protest of Ukrainian people in front of the Russian army.

“People are going to protest, like they are going right up to the Russian army. Like, don’t take our town, like get out of here and they start like to bomb people right now,” Rohava said. “Putin thinks the bigger he will be, the more people will be scared of him. So he’ll take Belarus, he’ll take Ukraine, and he’ll be bigger and bigger and bigger, he will never stop.”

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