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From the terror of war to the safety of Batavia: Ukrainians welcomed

By Joanne Beck


As Alina Kovalenko and her daughter Vlada settled onto a comfy-looking couch bathed in soft blush lighting from a nearby lamp, it was hard to imagine the terror and destruction that surrounded them not long ago.

Alina had been teaching English at a university, and her teenage daughter was finishing high school with a goal to study languages — English, French and Dutch — in college. Their lives were flowing along as Russia placed troops in Belarus, and by February, fighting began in eastern Ukraine.

Amidst the shock of Russia’s infiltration and gradual obliteration within sections of Ukraine territory, Alina still didn’t quite believe that it would reach her beloved hometown of Kharkiv. It was her 17-year-old daughter who kept up-to-date with friends and began to give mom nudges that they should move.

After weeks of disbelief that military maneuvers and bombings were heading their way, the pair eventually — and reluctantly —  left their homeland in search of peaceful existence. They went to Poland but realized that, since Poland had assisted Ukraine, it was not a safe country either.

Meanwhile, Art and Carla Wahls were sitting in their Batavia home’s living room in April watching television.

“We saw things on TV about the war. And then one night there was a piece on that President Biden was saying that he was going to allow at least 100,000 Ukrainians come to the United States through the United for Ukraine program,” Carla said during an interview with The Batavian. “So we're watching that, and Art turned to me, and he said, ‘we need to do something. We need to help.’ And we started the search process to find the perfect family.”


Alina’s disbelief was further validated by her parents, who felt that it was going to be ok for them to stay, even though her brother encouraged Alina to keep her car full of “petrol” and have a backpack filled with necessities at the ready. The sounds of bombs grew ever closer, and Ukraine residents’ lives changed into that of a fugitive — sleeping in their clothes, having the backpack nearby, and ready to run at a moment’s notice.

Of course, unlike a criminal fugitive, Alina, Vlada and their family and friends had done nothing wrong. Vlada kept asking her mom if they could move far from the violence, and there came a point when the worried mom conceded.

They had a curfew not to be outside from 4 p.m. to 6 a.m. each day, and shopping lines were very long due to the short amounts of time they had to get somewhere and back before 4. Roads were dangerous, with officials checking for valid passports and Russian soldiers shelling the town.


“It was first a shock to see shelled cars in Kharkiv,” Alina said. “It was surrounded by Russians. I didn’t want to believe it would be as bad as it was.”

They moved to Poland, but Russian troops were getting ever closer to the country, so — with Vlada’s prompting — Alina decided it was time to seek safety farther away.

“Children shouldn’t see this all. Vlada was afraid all the time,” Alina said. “I told her ‘if you wish, you can try.’”


So Vlada researched online, and Carla was also doing her research, and they eventually got connected through After registering, the Wahls received “a plethora of people looking for help,” Carla said, but many of them had the money and means to move. They were just looking for a United States citizen to host them. So she sifted through applicants as Vlada looked at profiles, and they eventually met via Zoom.

“So we were afraid that if the worst comes to the western part of Ukraine, they could easily (cross the border) and come to Poland. My brother, he’s a military soldier, they're in Kharkiv and our family friend, Stas, he's also there and he protects all this, but I also didn't believe that there are some people who can give you housing, who can give you financial support and mental support and any kind of support,” Alina said. “After the first (Zoom) video, I say no. It’s a huge responsibility that people have to take.”


But as they talked, some patterns arose. Alina is close in age to the Wahls' daughter Andrea. Arthur was Alina’s brother’s name and that of Carla’s husband. Both Art Wahl and Alina’s dad were mechanics.  These little details slowly forged a trust between them that this relationship was meant to be.

The women’s English was fairly good, and Carla has been giving them further help. Vlada is studying at the university online — beginning at 1 a.m. to coordinate with Ukraine time — and taking dance, playing acoustic guitar and writing songs about the war.

“You can’t understand what she’s saying, but you understand the feeling,” Carla said.

Vlada displayed an obvious spark of enthusiasm for acting, singing, playing piano and guitar and dancing.

“My soul is music,” she said, sharing one possible goal. “Maybe working in the theater.”

It has taken a while for them to get used to noises — such as a loud thunderstorm — and realize they are no longer in danger.

“For us, it’s important to be in a safe place and not have to run away from bombing,” Alina said. “Each of us had a life that we could control. We had a job, money, a home. Vlada was going to have her first concert, but war (stopped that from happening). We planned to buy a dress for her prom … I said ‘tomorrow we will go,’ and we never did.”

Memories of their journey are still vivid, as the women spoke of sleeping in shifts with family members and being cognizant of where they would go if they had to move quickly. Basements were considered safety zones.


As Alina grappled with explaining the terror they felt -- with crumbled buildings, fires, death -- she credited her daughter for doing much of the legwork for their final escape to a U.S. family.

“She was searching for them. She was texting everybody. So she did all the job. And then she just said, ‘Mom, I found the family. We need to make a chat. Okay, okay, I'm ready. Let's chat,” Alina said. “So in Poland, we leave like with people who also gave us housing, food and that's all, and I understood that I just couldn't go anywhere because we couldn't even buy tickets. So that's why we decided to go farther because we were afraid to be in the same situation like we were in Kharkiv.”


Since being in Batavia for nearly two months, they are experiencing a better life, a safer existence. There have been walks through a park, a trip to Niagara Falls, afternoon tea (from Carla’s English heritage),   discovering buttery Eggo waffles with syrup “a dream come true,” Vlada said with a grin — and the recognition of Ukraine flags hanging at random homes and office buildings.


“It’s so nice when in a different country and to see the Ukraine flag; it’s in our DNA,” Alina said, explaining the Coat of Arms blouses that she and Vlada quickly changed into for a photo. “This became our national protest. We are Ukraine, we belong to Ukraine. Everybody wears it to show that Kharkiv is Ukraine.”

When Art first suggested that they help a Ukraine family, his reason was simple, he said.

“They’re people like us,” he said. “What if that happened in the U.S.?”

They have each discovered how true that is — despite different cultural backgrounds, Alina and Vlada have been embraced by their hosts and become part of the Wahls brood.

“They’re already in our hearts. Our children (Andrea and Jamie) love you, and our grandchildren love you,” Carla said. “You’re family.”

If anyone is interested in serving as a host family and would like some guidance, email Carla.


Top photo of Alina and her daughter Vlada Kovalenko, who came from Kharkiv, Ukraine to stay with host family Art and Carla Wahls of Batavia, having afternoon tea with Carla and posing in front of the Wahls' U.S. and Ukraine flag, and relaxing in their living room together, above. Photos by Joanne Beck. Photos of the destruction in Ukraine and of Alina's brother, Arthur, and good friend Stas, submitted by Alina Kovalenko.

50th anniversary commemoration of Vietnam War in Batavia

By WBTA News

The VA Center in Batavia was host to a 50th anniversary commemoration of the Vietnam War.


The commemoration is being held in honor of Vietnam Veterans and their families including those held as prisoners of war or listed missing in action.


Guest Speaker Mr. Vincent Schollard served two tours of duty in Vietnam as a Navy Corpsman from 1966 to 1968.  

In a stirring speech he described what those who served in Vietnam had to come home to, “There was a cardboard sign in the window of a house sometimes saying "Welcome home Vet John or Mike" and the other people were still outside the airports with thier picket signs calling us baby killers, and what war criminals we were, and waiting with bags of dog crap, but we persevered and it's because of the Vietnam Veteran that the VA system got a better understanding of what PTSD really is...”

Schollard went onto speak of the exclusive brotherhood that he joined called the Vietnam Vets and how they have persevered not only through the horrors of War but in making many improvements to the VA system.


Schollard received a standing ovation as he choked up delivering the last words of his speech, “We are a strong group of men and women and I'm deeply proud to be a part of that, and I thank you for your service, welcome home my brothers.”  

St. Joe’s Brass Ensemble of Batavia played a service medley tribute as members of various military divisions arose for their tune to be be honored.

Frank Panepento and Tom Cecere led a haunting rendition of Silver Taps to close out the ceremony.

VA representatives were on hand to field questions about the VA system and many of the opportunities that a number of Veteran’s are underutilizing or completely unaware of.  For more information on VA services visit 


Former Le Royan's research brings to life memories of Genesee County's Great War dead

By Howard B. Owens


All of these local names, Dewey Sackett, Charles Votrie, James Hannah, Lee Kingdon, Willis Peck, Glenn Loomis, Florence Carney, John Arneth and many more. All young lives cut short in the War to End All Wars.

That was nearly 100 years ago. We may see their names on gravestones, or memorial markers or on honor rolls, but we know only the names. We don't know where they lived, where they worked, who they loved, what they dreamed or how they died.

They're war dead. That's what we know. So we honor them.

Former Le Roy resident Terry Krautwurst thought we should know more. We may read the names, but we shouldn't forget the people, so he has given us, residents of Genesee County, a gift -- a gift of remembrance.

For the past six years, Krautwurst has researched the war dead of Genesee County from World War I. He combed through newspaper articles and federal archives in St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo., in an attempt to identify all of the World War I men and women from Genesee County who died while serving their country.

He's compiled biographies, complete with military service records, detailing those lives, lifted from newspapers and death records, concerning 78 people who died during the war while in uniform.

That's a longer honor roll than probably anybody ever really knew about.

It was discrepancies in honor rolls that prompted Kautwurst's research in the first place.

"In 2009, while researching the World War I career of my grandfather, Stanley Crocker, of Le Roy, I noticed that the number of names on honor roll lists of Genesee County war dead that had been published in area newspapers varied," Krautwurst said. "They varied not just in number, from 52 to 61, but also the names themselves varied."

Untangling the mystery of the lists became a passion for Krautwurst.

"It seemed only right and proper to set the record straight," Krautwurst said. "I decided to research and resolve the discrepancies and produce an updated and maybe more accurate list. I figured it would take me a few weeks."

Krauthwurst donated the research of his six-year-long research project to the Genesee County History Department last week.

"Terry has performed an invaluable service to the county," said Michael Eula, director of the history department. "This is a tremendous resource and I doubt it's going to be seen in many other counties around the country regarding the first World War."

The deeper Krautwurst dug, the more discrepancies he found, including misspelled names, incorrect dates, hometowns and military assignments.

He kept detailed files on each of the war dead and his records, and the stories he tells of each person, fills eight volumes that will be available to the public at the history department in County Building #2.

"This provides a wealth of primary source information to first and foremost family members who still may be still wondering what happened generations ago and researchers looking at the local impact of the first World War, so this is an incredibly rich and valuable addition to the county archives," Eula said.

Krautwurst photocopied more than 1,200 military documents, which in some cases, include eyewitness accounts of a soldier's death and letters from a fallen soldier's parents.

"Sometimes, when I opened a soldier's file, I found his dog tags, which I photographed," Krauthwurst said.

Flipping through the pages and reading Krautwurst's articles, you learn family histories, the schools that soldiers attended, where they worked before getting drafted or enlisting, what they did in their spare time and, importantly, how and where they died.

Some died in the fields of France or the hills of Italy. Some died in combat, others hours and days later after their mangled bodies were borne on a stretcher to some field hospital. Some died from disease and some died in accidents.

"What has caught my eye is the playing out locally of what historians have talked about for a long time regarding the first World War," Eula said. "For example, a number of deaths were not the result in combat. Somebody gets killed in an auto accident when they're training someplace in the country. It shows the complexity of the moment."

The archive, Krautwurst hopes, will help us know better the people behind the names who sacrificed everything in a war often remembered for its brutality and how it reshaped society.

"These people who gave so much were right on the edge of forgotten," Krautwurst said. "I just didn't want that to happen."


County Historian Michael Eula with the eight volume of World War I war dead compiled by Terry Krautwurst.




Local photographer launches exhibit to underscore plight of refugees at The Gallery at Blue Pearl Yoga

By Patricia Hawley

The work of Pamela Dayton, a local artist who chronicled daily life through a series of photographs in a Syrian refugee camp, can be seen at The Gallery at Blue Pearl Yoga beginning today. The exhibit will be on display through June during normal gallery hours. The public is invited to a free opening reception on May 9.

Dayton traveled to Lebanon in 2013 with a short-term mission group from the Wesleyan Church of Hamburg. She became involved with a compassionate ministry to Syrian refugees while spending three weeks in a tented settlement in the Bekaa Valley, Beirut. Embedded with a team of doctors and nurses, she chronicled a “day-in-the-life” of a refugee in an attempt “to validate their existence and document their experiences for the wider world,” she explains. “My photographs illuminate the life of war refugees: the tragedy, sorrow, and tedium of living within a refugee settlement, as well as the beauty and strength of the Syrian people.”

Using a Sony a300 camera, Dayton took nearly 16,000 photographs -- or about 2,000 per day. Choosing which images make the cut has been “difficult” but Dayton hopes that people who visit the gallery will be able to identify with her subjects.

“There is one photograph of a mama holding a toddler that wanted no part of sitting on her lap. People are so similar, whether you’re in a makeshift tent in a Third-World nation or having coffee in my living room,” she says.

Pamela, who lives in Batavia with her husband Jon and their four children, plans to return to Lebanon this summer with the mission group. Then she will begin studying at Kilns College in Bend, Ore., to obtain a graduate degree in Social Justice and Theology in September.

“My heart is broken for refugees and families stuck in the cycle of poverty. There is an enormous refugee community in Buffalo, and poverty is a big problem in Genesee County and the Western New York area,” she says, “so I feel confident that I can make an impact here.”

An opening reception is planned for 6 to 8 p.m. on Friday, May 9, on the third floor of Blue Pearl Yoga, 200 E. Main St., Batavia. Gallery hours are Monday, Thursday, and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.; Monday through Thursday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. For more information, call Blue Pearl Yoga at 585.230.5430 or contact Ms. Dayton at

Batavia PTSD center providing help to increasing number of vets seeking treatment

By Howard B. Owens

The death of James Maher in Batavia on Nov. 7 brought the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan a little bit closer to home for many of us.

Here was a young man -- Maher was 27 -- who served his country with distinction, but was battling demons that apparently lead him to drink heavily and had friends fearing on that crisp Saturday night that James was out somewhere with thoughts of self destruction swimming through his mind.

Maher came to Batavia looking for help. He was one of more than 150,000 returning Iraq and Afghan war veterans who have reported to a clinic seeking help and answers for PTSD (about another 150,000 vets are estimated to suffer from PTSD, but have not sought help).

In the past year, the Jack H. Hisby, Jr. PTSD Center at the VA Hospital in Batavia has treated 557 men and 84 women in its residential clinic. Another 450 veterans are currently in out-patient treatment, according to Dr. Terri Julian, who runs the clinic.

"These patients are our sons our daughters and our bothers and our sisters and our fathers and our mothers and our aunts and our uncles," Julian said when I spoke with her at the clinic last week. "The fact that they come for treatment, we should be honoring them and patting them on the back for doing that. It’s a hard thing to do."

Until the late 1970s, when the term was coined, PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) was largely characterized as "battle fatigue" or "shell shock." It wasn't until Vietnam-era veterans made an issue about what they and their colleagues were experiencing, that PTSD became recognized as a treatable clinical condition.

Nearly 30 years later, two ongoing wars are taking a high toll on active duty soldiers and returning veterans according to recent media reports.

Military leaders acknowledge rampant psychiatric problems in their midst. According to the Army, the suicide rate among soldiers in Iraq is five times that seen in the Persian Gulf War and 11% higher than during Vietnam. The Army reported 133 suicides in 2008, the most ever. In January of this year, the 24 suicides reported by the Army outnumbered U.S. combat-related deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Marine Corps also reported an increase in suicides in 2008, to 41. The Army and Marine Corps have provided most of the troops in the two wars.

After the tragedy at Fort Hood on Nov. 5, PTSD emerged again as a topic of national discussion, with some speculation that Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan was suffering a form of PTSD stemming from his treatment of returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. There is some evidence that doctors who treat patients for PTSD can suffer "secondary trauma."

Regardless of the validity of any condition potentially suffered by Maj. Hasan, the difficulties returning veterans face has largely been ignored by the media.

The Veterans Administration, however, seems to have taken steps to deal with the psychiatric issues of returning veterans and their families.

According to Julian, the VA prepared for an increase of PTSD patients. In Batavia, for example, the residential clinic expanded in 2007 from 16 to 30 beds.

The VA also created a Web site to help families understand the difficult transition many returning vets face.

"Anybody coming back from a war zone is going to have some readjustment needs," Julian said.

The four-week residential treatment at the Batavia clinic is hard and challenging, according to veterans I met at a memorial for Maher on Veteran's Day.

Julian says, yes, in fact, treatment can be hard.

"Of course we don’t like to confront our pain because it hurts," Julian said, "but that’s exactly what we know helps.

"These are folks who go through some pretty awful stuff," Julian added. "They’re survivors and pretty courageous people. The fact that they can talk about how tough it is, we applaud that. We want them to talk about what's tough, about the work."

The treatment involves psychotherapy, group discussions, family meetings, medication, and fitness regimes.

Patients are also taught techniques to help them re-learn how to control anxiety.

There are also opportunities for patients to explore artistic abilities in pictures or music. An area fly-fishing group also offers fly-fishing classes.

“It’s all of the kinds of things that we know work from the research," Julian said.

The doctor is confident that the program is helping the vast majority of men and women who seek treatment.

"I can tell you, moving-on day," Julian said, "which is what we call our graduation, there is a  difference in those men and women who come in feeling disconnected from one another. I think one of the tough things that treatment does is, it lets you connect with your own heart and with other people again. That’s pretty scary after you’ve had losses due to war. When you let yourself do that, you remember what it’s like to feel again."

The clinic treats more than just Iraq and Afghanistan veterans (about 30 percent of the PTSD patients are from those two conflicts). There are also still a number of Vietnam vets who seek treatment for the first time (either they reach retirement and have more time to think or the current wars conjure up suppressed memories), and there are still Gulf War veterans who seek treatment.

She said after 9-11, their was a sharp increase of Korean War vets seeking treatment.

"One last thing I want to say," Julian added near the end of our interview. "It really is a privilege to be here every day and an honor to serve those who served us. I say that on behalf of our entire staff."

East Pembroke veteran part of documentary on post-war Vietnam

By Philip Anselmo

Kenneth Herrmann, along with several of his students from SUNY Brockport, are part of a film on post-war Vietnam that will air at an upcoming festival in Beijing. That film, Going Back, is about "three vets who returned to Vietnam to do humanitarian work," including Herrmann, who is from East Pembroke.

From VietnamNet:

The film includes interviews with Herrmann and in-depth coverage of the Brockport students who are filmed saving the life of a very sick and disabled child, serving lepers at the leper colony in Da Nang Province, assisting the elderly in a nursing home, and engaging 30 disabled kids at a respite programme for Agent Orange disabled children.

The theme, says Herrmann, is one of enhanced Buddhism - making peace with yourself in order to make peace with the war.

"Herrmann's work differs from that of others in that he engages in direct aid," said Steven Emmanuel, the film's producer and a professor of philosophy at Virginia Wesleyan University. "He and his students form a personal connection with the people they serve. We tried to show this in the film."

Terry Anderson: No. 7 in "What Made Genesee County Famous"

By Philip Anselmo

Clocking in at No. 7 in the Twenty-Five Things That Made Genesee County Famous is Terry Anderson, America's longest-held hostage in the Middle East, whose release set off a media blitz upon the city of Batavia, the likes of which Genesee County had never seen.

Holland Land Office Museum Director Pat Weissend:

On March 16, 1985, former Batavia resident Terry Anderson had just finished a game of tennis in Beirut, Lebanon when three gunmen pulled up in a green Mercedes and kidnapped him. This was day one in a 2,454 day ordeal that captivated the City of Batavia, Genesee County, the United States and the world.


His captors were a group of Shiite Muslims. During his captivity, Anderson was tortured and beaten. He didn’t know from one day to the next if he would be released or killed. He turned to the Bible for peace and wrote poetry.

After being imprisoned for nearly seven years, Anderson was released on December 4, 1991. After his release he spent a few days in a hospital in Wiesbaden, Germany before returning to the United States. 

For more on Terry Anderson, visit the museum's Web site.

In a side note: This terra cotta sculpture here of Anderson was dropped off at the Holland Land Office Museum last week and should be up on display for folks who want to check it out up close.

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