By: Rachel L. Richardson

For Yulia Ferguson and Christine Ryczkowski, Appraisal Analysts with the Valbridge San Jose office, the conflict in Ukraine is not one removed to a distant country, but rather a conflict close to the heart.

“I was born in Ukraine, and I lived almost all my life in Ukraine,” says Ferguson, who joined Valbridge last November and is working toward becoming an appraiser. This fall will mark the seventh year in the States for the forty-three-year-old and her son, Ilya. Her grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends all still live in Ukraine. “When you are an emigrant at such an adult age,” she says, “you have so many memories and connections there.”

Ryczkowski, who has been with Valbridge for about ten years, also has roots in Ukraine—roots veiled in mystery. Her Ukrainian grandfather was separated from her Polish grandmother and Ryczkowski’s father during WWII, under circumstances lost to history. “Although I know little of my Ukrainian roots, the war in Ukraine deeply resonates with me,” she says since it “conjures up the experience of my Polish family during and after World War II when some of my Polish family fought bravely in the military and The Underground, and my father and grandmother navigated across Europe as refugees with just the clothes on their backs and a bag of mementos.”

“It was a life of hardship,” Ryczkowski adds, “yet there are photos of my grandmother smiling, and this gives me hope. She had friends and compassionate people who opened doors and advocated for her. I am incredibly grateful to these people who I wish I could thank in person. But the best way to honor their gift is to give in return.”

Just as Ryczkowski emphasizes the connection between the Ukrainian and Polish cultures, Ferguson echoes this sentiment of Ukraine and Russia. We were very connected,” says Ferguson, who grew up in a Russian-speaking region of Ukraine, in a Russian-Ukrainian family. As a speaker of both languages, she adds, “All my friends are a mix of Russian and Ukrainian.”

This conflict of “brother against brother,” Ferguson says, “flipped everything upside-down. It’s just difficult to accept, difficult to believe that this is happening. The thought of war anywhere in the world is heartbreaking, much less in our peace-loving country.

“It’s not a perfect nation,” Ferguson admits with a shake of her head. “No. I don’t want to idealize.” We are a stubborn and proud people, she says, but also a brave and hospitable people, especially now. As she speaks with her family in the country, she hears how broken relationships have been mending—how people have connected amid this upheaval, set aside their differences, and worked toward common goals.

This clash has also united many people in countries across the globe, Ferguson and Ryczkowski note, grateful and awed by the support. “We are so fortunate to live in an age where social media offers creative and fun ways to give,” Ryczkowski says. Whether it’s through attending a fundraising concert, or supporting artisans on Etsy who are donating proceeds to the cause, people are getting involved. “In my local office,” Ryczkowski shared, “we are having a dartboard competition to raise funds.”

“I am so grateful to the Valbridge Women’s Council (VWC),” she adds, “for offering a platform to champion worthy causes, such as support for Ukraine. When my coworker, Yulia, asked me if our local office could help raise funds, I thought of the Comfort Cases Donation Drive sponsored by the VWC. The Women’s Council leadership was immediately responsive when I reached out, and the support has been even more than I expected. We are so privileged to have the VWC.”

“The only thing I would like to say,” Ferguson said in conclusion, “is a huge thanks. I don’t know how to explain it in English, but this is like an ocean, what I feel. My family and I are incredibly grateful to the governments, individuals, and organizations, like our own, for their compassion and support for Ukraine in this difficult time.”