ORLANDO, Fla. – As Russian troops continue their assault through Ukraine, one University of Central Florida student is there on the ground.
Five years ago, Mia Willard was in Florida. Now, she’s continuing her education in the middle of a war zone.
She told News 6 she wants to stay put with her mother and sister and help the people in her home country.
“I never expected to wake up in a war zone,” Willard said. “One morning at 5 a.m., we just woke up to the blasts and explosions all around.”
She said it’s been stressful, but she’s trying not to panic.
“For the first week, yes, we spent every night in a basement which is the best thing to a shelter that we have,” Willard said.
She told us how she felt when Ukrainian forces shot down a Russian jet near her home in Kyiv.
“It’s a very forceful explosion. That was probably the scariest time because it was the closest to us, really,” Willard said.
Willard is taking online classes at UCF, majoring in international and global studies. She was born and raised in Kyiv, then moved to Florida in 2015 with her dad to finish high school. She then attended American University in 2017 before moving back home to Kyiv. Willard told News 6 she’s kept in touch with her father, who lives in Lake Nona, almost daily via FaceTime.
News 6 was able to speak with Willard’s dad by phone, who told us he’s relieved that his daughter and family over in Kyiv are safe.
Willard said for now she wants to stay put.
“I’m in the position where I don’t have children, I don’t have any dependents, I’m in the position to stay on the ground and help if I can,” Willard said.
She wants to lend a helping hand to anyone she can, by making grocery store and pharmacy runs for the elderly and fundraising for the military.
“I feel that I can be of help on the ground here,” Willard said.
UCF leaders told News 6 they have approximately 35 students from Ukraine and they’ve connected them with a variety of resources to help them through this uncertain time.