LANSING, Mich. — Masha Smahliuk says the night before she heard about Russia invading her home country of Ukraine, she slept deeply.
It would be the last time she did for a while.
"I remember it was a snow day on the 24th of February. And I remember, I woke up earlier, but I like turned off my alarm," said Smahliuk, who is 17 and attending Mount Pleasant High School as part of a student exchange program.
She checked news outlet after news outlet in disbelief then called her parents crying.
"It was shock for me," said Smahliuk. "I think it was shock for our president, for all our people, I think for all the world. I don't think anybody could possibly think that a war could happen in the center of Europe, in 21st century, and especially such a bloody and cruel war."
She says being 5,000 peaceful miles from the war left her conflicted.
"So first three days, it was this kind of shocking," said Smahliuk. "Then it was crying for my family, and then just guilt. But then I said, 'I should probably do something because my tears won't help my family to survive. And they won't help Ukraine to win this war'."
She took to the internet, searching for ways to help. She's been sharing donation links, doing TV interviews and attending rallies.
"Right now there are just horrible fights in the Donbass region," she said. "And of course, Mariupol, 99 percent of Mariupol was destroyed. A lot of lives were taken."
Lately Smahliuk said she's been hearing U.S. officials say Ukraine should surrender some cities so Putin can "save face." However, she cannot fathom voluntarily giving up the freedom of any of her Ukranian brothers and sisters.
News outlets like CNN are reporting that hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians are being forced into Russian camps, then into Russia to live in economically depressed areas.
"We could not believe that," said Smahliuk. "You never think that in your life, you could meet death."
A senior in high school, Smahliuk has been accepted into Central Michigan University for the upcoming fall.
She says with the war ongoing, she feels blessed to stay in Michigan, and plans to spend her time here ensuring her country and people are not forgotten.
"The war is still on, and we should not be used to the war, because this is not a normal thing," said Smahliuk. "This shouldn't be happening in our world."
Below are Masha Smahliuk's donation links to help Ukraine:
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