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'Close the skies' | Ukrainian student asks the world to do more to stop Russia

Former Davenport Central foreign exchange student Alina Kobal is in hiding near Lviv, Ukraine. She shared her experience amid the Russian invasion.

MOLINE, Ill. — Alina Kobal is a 22-year-old college student in Ukraine with a Quad Cities connection.

She went to Davenport Central in 2016 as a foreign exchange student. She said she is still in contact with many of the friends she met in the Quad Cities, and they ask her if her family is safe.

"No, we're not safe. No, we're not okay. I can't call it safe," Kobal said. "My family is right now in the basement. The windows are shaking. They hear the missiles flying over the house. Are they safe? No, they're not. They're not safe."

Kobal lives in Kyiv, but she was headed to a ski trip in Western Ukraine when the war started. Now she is separated from the rest of her family, in hiding in her boyfriend's home near Lviv. 

She gets regular calls from her mom, keeping in touch about the changing conditions. She is relieved they still have phone and internet service. 

"No one would ever believe that we would have something like this," Kobal said. "I mean, we knew that our neighbors are crazy. We knew that (Russian President Vladimir) Putin is capable of everything. But I would never think that he would do something like this, that he would try to take over the whole country."

News 8's Denise Hyntka talked to Kobal about about how the U.S. media is portraying the situation, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the world's reaction to what's happening. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Life was normal up until two days ago, because you planned a ski trip. You had no hesitation about doing that.

Life was all normal. We were going to work, paying our taxes to help our army, planning our life, living our life. I didn't even exchange my money to dollars or euros. And now it's just not possible to buy foreign currency. A lot of people ask me why don't I leave the country. Well, first of all, I don't feel like that's the right thing to do. I mean, people are dying for us here. Right? Our army is doing their best. Why should I leave? This is my country. This is my land. This is where I was born. This where I want to live.

Is anyone going to work? Are there stores open? Or has everybody stopped everything they're doing to hide and to care for their families and to find safety?

Yeah, the stores are open. The pharmacies are open. So for now, we do have enough supply of food and water. Some people lost their jobs. Some people didn't. For example, I work for Ukrainian company. It's like a big job aggregator. So it's a Ukrainian company, but we work internationally for 71 different countries. And I personally work for the Canadian market. So I hope I will start on Monday. We need to start because we need to support our army.

There's definitely a lot of people who don't have their jobs. They're just hiding. Most of them are just sitting in basements, 24/7, because Russians have been bombarding our cities. What they show to their people in Russia is that they only attack like military targets, but that's not true. This is a big lie, because they're bombarding residential blocks, houses, orphanages, kindergartens. They're killing civilians, and they're well aware of that they're doing this.

The horror, the cruelty of that, the complete lack of humanity is so hard for Americans to understand watching from so far away.

I write a lot of posts. I'm trying to raise as much awareness as possible to explain to people abroad, because I have a lot of foreign friends from different countries. I'm trying to show them what's happening. I know that you watch news, and you see what's happening. But you know what? It's far from you. And then you just go and sleep at night. And unfortunately, that's not enough. I do see all the support from people in Europe and the U.S. I see people praying for us on the streets. And yeah, that's that's a great support. We see this, we hear you, we thank you. But unfortunately, it's not enough. We need the the reaction of the world.

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So when you see our government and the European Union offering sanctions, what is your reaction? 

I don't think they care about the sanctions that much. If they are daring enough to invade our territory, I'm sure they are ready to stand against the sanctions. They knew exactly what was going to happen. They knew the risks. If they still invaded Ukraine, it means that they're ready to take those risks.

What we're asking right now from NATO is to block the sky from the air raids, because our army is actually very strong. Honestly I'm surprised how our army is strong. Of course the U.S. and other countries helped us with the military equipment. But I'm very proud of our Ukrainian men and our army and what they're doing for us. They're very brave. They're fighting for us. And I think we have a big chance to win in this war. But we need NATO's reaction and the world's reaction to block the skies over Ukraine.

As of Feb. 28, President Joe Biden says he is against the idea of closing the skies over Ukraine. He said that would require direct engagement with Russian forces.

There are a lot of reports here in American media about how Russia is facing resistance like they did not expect. They were expecting to move much quicker and to take the capital very quickly. What does that say about the Ukrainian people?

I can say that we're very united right now. I'm honestly very proud of our army and our people. We help each other. Like my mom said, they took a couple of families into the house. 

We believe in our army and support our army. And it's hard for me because, you know, I'm still a student. I need to write my dissertation, work, and it's just so hard. I'm not sure if I will be able to graduate this summer like I was supposed to, because I don't know what's gonna happen tomorrow. But I'm just trying to pull myself together. I'm planning to continue working because we need to pay taxes. We need to support our army. We need we need to do something.

Alina is studying French-English translation. She also speaks Russian. She says this war is making her rethink her career goals.

I need a kind of job that will help the world to fight injustice. I feel like this is actually my goal. After all this happened, it's a sign that I need to do something to help my country and to help other nations and other people who face injustice. I can't even describe the level of rage I have right now. But also, I'm trying not to lose hope. But I would say that sometimes I honestly feel hopeless. When I watch news, I see my university, I see my favorite cafes. Everything is bombarded. I can't believe this is my my city. Yeah, this is just really, really hard for us. I came back here five years ago. I could leave Ukraine, but I stayed here. I'm getting my degree and going to my work. I live in a nice apartment. I buy nice food. It's not like we live in poverty.

RELATED: 'I need ammunition, not a ride': Ukraine's president declines US urging to evacuate

Can I ask you about your president? He seems very visible. There was a report last night that he refused to leave Kyiv. And he said, "I need ammunition. I don't need a ride." What do the Ukrainian people think of him and the way he's leading right now?

We're very proud of him. We didn't expect that he would be this strong. And he's a great leader. I can say, he's the best president we've had in all these years. I'm very proud of the way he's handling all this. Considering the fact that he's not a politician, considering the fact that he doesn't have a degree in political science. He's a regular man.

It's almost 7 p.m. over there. So what does the rest of the evening hold? Are you able to sleep? Can you eat dinner like normal? What is daily life like?

We wait for news. All the time, news, news, news. I sleep in warm clothes in case something happens, I can get up and go to the basement very quickly. We are hiding in a small village, so it's a bit safer here.

The air raids are the most horrifying thing. The sound of it is horrible. It gives me panic attacks every time I hear it. I will be scared for the rest of my life. Because if I hear some sound on the street...I think it's a siren.

What do you want people in the Quad Cities to know when they read this?

It's not a Russian-Ukrainian conflict. I hate when people say this. It's not a conflict. It's a full-scale war. It's unprovoked war. We did not want this war. We do not want to join Russia. We do not want to be Russian. We are ready to fight for our country. We need your support. We need the world's immediate reaction to this.

So I just really hope that I will be able to come back to Kyiv. Because I really love it. It's a beautiful city, and I just hope that I will be able to come back again and reunite with my family.

I had so many plans for the summer. And now all I want is peace. I don't want anything else. I don't want any trips. I don't want anything else but peace. That's all I want. So yeah, please raise awareness, write articles and talk about us. Because the more people protest, the more people talk about it, post about it, the more we'll be able to do something.

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