MICHIGAN — This weekend, although a war rages on thousands of miles away in their homeland, many orthodox Ukrainians in Michigan are celebrating Christmas.
Many Ukrainians celebrate Christmas on January 7th in accordance with the Eastern Orthodox religious calendar.
Masha Smahliuk is a Ukrainian International Student attending Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant.
She tells 7 Action News, "Christmas at home we have the tradition of getting Holy Dinner. For us, it’s the getting together with family, with friends."
Smahliuk says she has fond memories of celebrating Christmas Eve and Christmas back home in Ukraine before the war, with her mom and dad.
Even though many Ukrainians can't celebrate at home this year, she says they'll still be joyous; "Christmas times and winter holidays are times when Ukrainians seem to celebrate even more! They’re still celebrating as life is still going on and we’re so strong."
Back home Smahliuk says Russian forces have been attacking Ukraine's Critical Energy Infrastructure, cutting her parents' electricity and heat throughout the day.
"As I call my parents, I can only call at certain times a day because they have light for 2 hours, then they don’t have electricity," said Smaliuk. "Then again 2 hours with light, then again 2 hours without electricity."
The suffering are ones that local reverend of Little Rock Baptist Church, Reverend Jim Holley knows wells.
He recently went to Poland and Ukraine to aid refugees and told 7; "What I really want people to know is that it’s getting worse. We got to understand the more you put into war, the more casualties, and the more homelessness."
To help, Rev. Holley has been collecting donations that will go to a hotel for families on the south-east border of Poland.
"I adopted a hotel called the 'Michigan House,'" said Rev. Holley. "Basically I have about 3,000 people in there. I want to be able to get shoes, underwear for the kids, and also coats for the winter."
Both the Reverend and Smaliuk say the longer the war goes, the more difficult it can be to make sure people don't forget what Ukrainians are going through.
Smahliuk says, "Me personally, I’ll never be able to say thank you enough to the people who have supported us."
A silver lining of this tough time for this tough girl?
As she was finishing her interview with Channel 7, she brought her mother into the picture.
This Christmas is the first time her mother has been able to visit here since Smahliuk came to Michigan.
They both said, "Merry Christmas!"