Ukrainian Airman’s perspective on resilience

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Ericka A. Woolever
  • 31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

The light from the six tall windows illuminated the perspiration on his forehead as he sat back in the black chair with his feet planted into the dark blue carpet. It was almost as if he was setting himself up for a memory he wished he was not forced to live through.

“It was February 24, I woke up and I had my phone on sleep mode, where the notifications for the messages were silenced,” said U.S Air Force Airman 1st Class Dmytro Rumiantsev, 82nd Comptroller Squadron, financial management technician from Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas. “When I picked up my phone I saw three messages in Viber, another four messages from Facebook and WhatsApp. My mom was trying to call me. I called her back right away, and she was crying… ‘They are bombing us, I woke up at 4:45 a.m. because I heard the explosions,’ she said.”

Each day Rumiantsev wakes up to check on one thing… if his family in Ukraine is still alive.   

“There’s a seven-hour time difference, so for the first few days I wasn’t going to bed before my family woke up so I could get in touch with them,” said Rumiantsev.

Living through this was like a nightmare, he explained.

“I couldn’t even process it,” he said. “As the days went on, I felt helpless, because I couldn’t do anything. I felt anger because no one could have ever imagined this happening.”

Rumiantsev silently stares across the room. His stillness filling the humid air, like he didn’t want to face his new reality.

“My everyday routine begins with sending a text to my mother, father and grandma ‘Hi, how are you?’ Just to see if they respond or I check when they were last online,” said Rumiantsev.

His entire family remains in Ukraine, including Rumiantsev’s 51- year-old father who joined the Ukrainian military to actively protect others.

“It’s one thing to not know if my family is safe, but it’s a whole other thing knowing my father is out there with significantly higher chances of dying,” he said.

Rumiantsev isn’t like most Airmen, he doesn’t just have a worry about an upcoming physical fitness test or learning about his job. Instead, he has what feels like the weight of the world on his shoulders, he explained.

As he described each piece of the story, sharing his most fearful moments, there was something he circled back to each time: the ability to be resilient.

“I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing, but human beings get used to things,” said Rumiantsev.

This is not the first time he’s found ways to get through life’s challenges, even his journey into the U.S. Air Force was far from simple. 

“I finished high school and my family decided that I would go to Warsaw, the capital of Poland, to go to college,” said Rumiantsev.

After completing his first year of college, he joined a work and travel program, where students had the opportunity to work for a summer in the U.S.  

“I went and I worked in Colorado,” he said. “I really liked it and I was surprised to see how people right out of high school were able to live on their own, get a job and find themselves.”

Although he liked the U.S. and wanted to stay, his parents didn’t agree.

“I returned and the moment I got back, literally the day I got back, I knew I should have stayed,” he said.

Rumiantsev knew what he wanted and only one goal in mind: get back to the U.S. However, it took another full year before he could return.

“The second year finished, and I went through the work and travel program again and I came back to the states, he said. “During that time there was the conflict in Crimea so I had the chance to apply for asylum.”

By the end of the summer Rumiantsev met with a lawyer and applied for refugee status in the U.S.

From there, things didn’t get any easier. He moved from place to place and at times had only a few dollars in his bank account.

“I was renting rooms in Brooklyn [New York],” he said. “I moved into a tiny room where there were two bunk beds and four people total in one room and I didn’t know any of them.”

He worked a dead-end job and worked almost three times more than the average American, sometimes up to a 100 hours a week, he explained.

Despite all the hardships he’d faced, Rumiantsev said he felt like he’d found his fate. Through mutual friends Rumiantsev met Costa, a much older gentleman, who used to work as a priest for an orthodox church.

Rumiantsev said, “I told [Costa] I wanted to get into the medical field, and he told me he had a friend who actually did medical work in the [U.S. Air Force].”

Shortly after, Costa organized a dinner where his friend in the U.S. Air Force and Rumiantsev could meet. After a few conversations over dinner, Rumiantsev quickly learned how to make his ambitions take him as far as he wanted to go.

“She told me that she worked in the medical lab and told me about the opportunities the U.S. Air Force can provide,” he said. “She said ‘If you are dedicated and work hard, then the Air Force will recognize it and help you achieve your goals.’”

From there Rumiantsev waited almost two more years for his green card, totaling six years from the time he lived in U.S., until he was even able to talk to a U.S. Air Force recruiter.

“After coming home from work one day at 6 p.m., I opened my mail and I received my green card,” he said. “The very next day at 8 a.m. I went to a recruiter and started the process.”

The rest was history. He met with a recruiter, went open general and shipped out to basic military training eight months later.

As of today, he is currently deployed to the 31st Fighter Wing to enhance readiness, strengthen, and if necessary, defend and secure the NATO Alliance. Despite not having boots on the ground, his long journey before joining the U.S. Air Force provided him the chance to leave a few words of wisdom.

“If there is a will there is a way, keep that in mind. If you have goals and you don’t really feel like you are getting there, just remember life works in mysterious ways and as long as you really want it, then keep that carrot in front of you on the stick and keep going,” Rumiantsev said.