Village at Proprietors Green’s own Derek Morrison and his girlfriend were featured prominently in local paper The Coastal Mariner on September 22, 2022.
Morrison’s girlfriend is from Ukraine, and she escaped the current war with Derek’s help and now lives locally in Marshfield. Derek began his career at VPG in high school as a dining room server and has worked in a number of different positions throughout our community. He is currently on our maintenance team helping to keep our community in top shape for our residents.
See below for The Coastal Mariner article to learn more about Morrison and his girlfriend, Valerie Musiienko.
Ukrainian woman flees war, moves to MA with boyfriend she met on language learning app
By Ruth Thompson, Coastal Mariner, 9/21/22. To read the original article, please visit the Coastal Mariner website. All images here including header image are courtesy Wicked Local/Coastal Mariner.
It was the middle of the night when Derek Morrison was woken by a phone call. It was his girlfriend, Valerie Musiienko, who lives in Ukraine, and things were starting to happen, she told him.
This was February 2022 and “things” meant Russia was invading Ukraine.
“I was frozen and speechless,” said Derek, a Marshfield resident.
After speaking with Derek, Valerie had to focus on getting her belongings gathered up so she would be ready at a moment’s notice.
“Ready for what,” she said. “None of us knew.”
As the war escalated in Kyiv, where Valerie lived, she evacuated amid bombings to places outside of the city.
Derek, home in the U.S., felt compelled to do something. After discussions with his family, and discussions with Valerie’s family, he journeyed to Poland to meet up with her and bring her, and her two cats, back to the States.
Long distance relationship
Derek and Valerie first met in March 2020 on the HelloTalk app – a language learning app that allows people to practice speaking a foreign language. The app clearly states it is not to be used for dating, but sometimes the unexpected happens.
“Valerie and I met shortly after my father passed away.” Derek said. “It was also a few weeks after I broke my hand and was pretty much stuck at home, so it was nice having someone to talk with on a regular basis.”
The couple really enjoyed their conversations as days turned to weeks and then into months, they said.
“We’d video chat, watch movies over Zoom, and have phone calls while Derek drove home from work,” Valerie said. “I’m not sure at which point we decided it was a good idea to fall in love with someone halfway across the world, but at least we both decided it was worth the risk.”
While her family lived outside of the city, Valerie had moved to Kyiv in 2013 to attend university. As she worked on her degree, she wanted to improve her English and began taking classes on the English language, which she said she fell in love with.
“I realized I wanted to help others to see that learning languages can be fun and resultative,” she said. “I was learning teaching methodology and the past year I lived alone working as an online English tutor for teenagers and adults.”
“The war divided my life into two parts — before and after the war,” Valerie said.
After talking with Derek until the early morning hours of Feb. 24, Valerie woke up to a call at 5 a.m. from her mother.
“She said, ‘The war has started; they are bombing Kyiv. Get up! Do you hear anything?’ And right after that I heard a few loud explosions,” Valerie said.
She realized she couldn’t move; and couldn’t feel her legs at all for a while, due to the shock of what was happening.
“I was trying to pull myself together to come up with a plan, but it was hard hearing all those explosions one after another. I was shaking and felt nauseous. I had to pull myself together since I had no one by my side to calm me down.”
That’s when she ended up calling Derek to let him know what was happening and that she was alive in case she lost cell service.
“I couldn’t leave Kyiv,” she said. “It was hell outside. There were a lot of people, a lot of cars. People were trying to get gas and leave. The line at the gas station I saw was so long I didn’t see the end of it.”
She met up with a friend and her friend’s young son. They stayed together and collected some food, pet food and medicine, prepared everything important she could think of, and then checked where they could hide – the nearest underground parking garage.
“We didn’t have a bomb shelter near where we lived,” she said. “I checked to see if we had any military objects near the area, because that’s what we expected the Russian military to target. We didn’t but it didn’t matter because after a few hours I saw a video from my friend with a building, and instead of some floors there was a hole. A missile hit the apartment building. I knew people who lived there. Their apartment was ruined, but luckily they weren’t home.”
Through the window on the 25th floor, she saw smoke and shooting, Valerie said.
“I had no idea if it was our air defense or Russian fire. It scared us. It was very loud. Even one day like this is enough to have nightmares for six months and be scared of any loud sound.”
Valerie, her friend, and her friend’s son got into a car with their pets and all the bags they had gotten together for a short trip to a small house outside of Kyiv, not completely ready to be lived in, where her friend’s family – about 25 people – were.
“We spent the night there, sleeping on the floor,” Valerie said. “Can’t call is sleeping, though. I heard planes and then explosions from time to time.”
The reality of war with Russia
War is not something you can describe, Valerie said.
“On the first day I wanted it to be a dream. I kept saying to myself, ‘please wake up.’ I was checking to see if everyone I knew was alive all the time and if they needed any help. I thought we would die, and I wanted to talk to my family as often as I could. I didn’t believe we, Ukraine, would last very long.”
She couldn’t help to think how unfair it was.
“We have great people and a beautiful country with so many traditions, beautiful sites to see, and amazing food,” Valerie said. “And the country that was once your ‘friend’ just comes to kill you and destroy everything you have. I remember I thought about self-defense, like if a Russian soldier came in would I be able to kill him to protect myself?”
And the Russians were coming. They were trying to invade Kyiv, and Valerie was afraid she wouldn’t be able to leave if that happened.
A friend kindly offered to help – he was traveling with a couple to the western part of Ukraine, she said.
They were driven to a small town near the border of Ukraine and Romania, allowing them to be able to leave the country any time.
“A friend of a friend offered his apartment to us. We were driving for 30 hours – normally it would take 10 to 12 hours. There were five people and five cats in the car.”
During the ride they saw ruined roads and buildings, burned big trucks, military planes flying overhead, and columns of military vehicles, and heard air sirens on the radio, Valerie said.
“We stayed in that small apartment with only one couch to sleep on for two months,” Valerie said. “We couldn’t find any other place to stay. Even money wouldn’t help. Stores were half empty, ATMs didn’t work. I was glad we had something to eat and a place to sleep and we didn’t hear any explosions, which was more important. But we heard sirens pretty often.”
The sirens were loud and woke the group up a few times at night for several nights.
“I was hiding in a bathroom at first,” she said. “After a few times, I stopped doing that. It was too exhausting to spend hours sitting in there. I can’t imagine how people lived in basements for weeks.”
A friend in the U.S.
Valerie was in touch with Derek all this time, she said.
“He would wake up whenever I called him and talk to me if I needed support. And I needed him a lot back then because I couldn’t handle all the emotions myself. I couldn’t cry for two months, that’s how terrified I was. Sometimes he helped me to go through it and let my emotions out in a different way. I’m lucky to have his support. No matter if it’s just a bad day or a war in my country, he is always there for me.”
According to Derek, he and Valerie had been planning to continue their relationship by having her move to the U.S. via a K1 visa, also known as the “fiancé visa.”
“We actually had begun the process right around the time the war began,” he said.
After the war started, Derek researched the federal government mention of accepting Ukrainian refugees into the U.S.; he even reached out to members of Congress for more information, with no results. Then a couple of months later, the U.S. announced a program called “Uniting for Ukraine,” which allows U.S. citizens to directly sponsor individual Ukrainians for residency in the U.S.
“Valerie and I decided this would be the best option,” he said.
Derek’s mother, whom he lives with, was supportive of the idea.
“My mother had been messaging with Valerie for a while,” he said. “We’d been together for almost two years by that time. When the war began, my mom would ask me almost every day what we could do to help. She and her friends even went so far as to get some money together to send to Valerie and her family. When I brought up the possibility of Valerie moving here, she said yes without any hesitation.”
From Ukraine to Poland to USA
Valerie, her mother, and sister went to Poland from Ukraine to connect with Derek, who had traveled to Poland to bring Valerie back to the U.S.
The trip, he said, was “great” and he was able to meet Valerie’s mother and sister for the first time.
“In Poland we stayed in Krakow and explored the city,” he said of the three days they were there. “Our trip was cut a bit short because of the travel issues, but hopefully the next time we are with her family we can spend more time together.”
On the way home, their first flight was cancelled but after hours of searching they were lucky to find a train route that could bring them to Germany for their connecting flight.
“Twenty-one hours and five trains later we arrived in Germany and made it in time for our flight home,” he said.
Coming to the U.S. was more than difficult, said Valerie, who had never been here before.
“I left my family and my friends, but my mom and Derek insisted so I listened to them and left. But every day I fight the feeling of guilt.”
There is not a day that goes by where she does not pray for her family and friends who are still in Ukraine, she said.
Valerie’s two cats accompanied her on the long journey to the U.S.
“It was difficult to travel to Poland and then to Germany – five different trains for a 20-plus hour trip, then an eight-hour flight to the U.S.,” she said. “These cats are heroes.”
Getting used to life in the United States
So far Valerie’s experience in the U.S. has been positive.
“I can say that everything I saw is beautiful here,” she said. “People are very different and very polite and kind. A lot of people are very welcoming. There is no place like home, of course, but I guess I already love my second home because of the people I have in it.”
In terms of language, Valerie thinks she’s doing OK with English.
“I make a lot of mistakes, especially when I’m trying to speak fast or when I’m not focused. But in general, I have a good command of English. It’s enough to communicate with native speakers. Sometimes people speak too fast so I may ask to repeat. That’s the only problem that I faced so far.”
Valerie loves the beach, and she and Derek went almost every day for the first week she was in Marshfield. The couple also went to Boston for the first time in late August for a Ukrainian festival celebrating Ukrainian independence day.
Aside from that, Derek has been busy at work; they are trying to save money so they can get their own place.
They are also working on getting a green card for Valerie, and eventually her citizenship.
“It will be a long process, but so far we’ve been up for every challenge,” Derek said.
As for things back home, Valerie’s family is living about 60 miles from the frontline, but they are O.K. and have everything they need, she said.
“My sister started school online. It’s dangerous to study offline. We speak every day and I tell them all about my new experiences.”
Valerie shared her story so that people could learn more about the war, she said.
“I believe everyone can be helpful. We stand for the same values that Americans stand for – freedom and independence. As long as Americans are aware of the situation and support Ukraine, the American government will help Ukraine too. And Ukrainians really appreciate every country that helps, especially the USA.”
Unfortunately, she added, the way to victory is “long and bloody.”
“Our small country is fighting for freedom with the biggest aggressive country in the world. But I believe Ukraine is brave enough and our partners are supporting us enough to help us win this war. Once a dictator gets away with his crimes, the world safety is in big danger. He will never stop.”
The couple extends their thoughts and prayers to every person in Ukraine, and everyone affected by this awful war.
“I never wanted to live in another country,” Valerie said. “But you never know how your life will turn out.”
Original article by Ruth Thompson, Coastal Mariner, 9/21/22. To read the original article, please visit the Coastal Mariner website.