ORLANDO, Fla. – The war in Ukraine has been raging for over a year now.
For people here in Florida, it can feel like it is a world away. But for one University of Central Florida student, it has been her reality daily.
Mia Willard lives in Kyiv and attends classes virtually. Her dad lives in Lake Nona. Since Russia’s attack on Ukraine began, Willard has focused on humanitarian efforts and helping those who have lost so much during the war.
Within the last few weeks, she flew back to Florida to spend some time with her dad. While here, she talked to Matt Austin and Ginger Gadsden on Florida’s Fourth Estate about what it has been like helping survivors across Ukraine.
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Willard said when it first started, she couldn’t believe “the full-scale invasion was going to happen.”
But it was all over the news, and she remembers when it hit her as a friend from Florida called her at 4:57 a.m. one night.
“Two minutes later, I hear this explosion starting, a Russian jet was shot down right above my house. And it was really crazy from there,” Willard said.
While living in the war zone, Willard said she would seek cover in a basement with her family. After surviving the first few days, her attention began to face outward.
“I decided against evacuating very early on unless I absolutely had to and had no other choice,” said Willard, who started off by bringing medical supplies to people in need.
“I was there with the first volunteers when I practically still saw Russian dead soldiers out on the streets,” she said. “And that was a crazy experience. And we brought some humanitarian aid to the locals. And I guess that’s when I made that decision to continue doing humanitarian aid work as the territories get de-occupied.”
Willard said she has also been to Bakhmut, which she calls one of the hottest war zones in Ukraine right now.
She has experienced the pride of helping others, but also the pain of war.
Willard added she recently lost a friend.
“Just as I got to the United States, I received news that a good friend of mine was killed. He was a soldier. And unfortunately, he died, protecting our country in the Donbass,” Willard said. “That was a terrible loss for everyone. It’s one of the sweetest guys you’d imagine.”
To learn more about Mia’s sacrifice and how she feels about the response from other countries, check out Florida’s Fourth Estate. You can download it from wherever you listen to podcasts or watch it anytime on News 6+.
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