Ukrainian woman uses skills learned in Wisconsin to help war-torn town heal

National Public Radio Producer Kat Lonsdorf grew up in Verona, and now she’s a correspondent for the war in Ukraine.
Published: Jan. 9, 2023 at 5:24 PM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Searching for the bodies of her family members after Russian attacks on her home, a Ukrainian woman met an American journalist. Though it may have seemed like the two didn’t have a lot in common, a small south central Wisconsin town brought them together.

Now, months later, the town continues to strengthen their bond and even bring joy in the war-torn country.

National Public Radio Producer Kat Lonsdorf grew up in Verona, and now she’s a correspondent for the war in Ukraine.

“Almost everyday I’m texting with someone from Ukraine at this point in my life,” Lonsdorf shared.

She has spent the past year going back and forth to Ukraine during the Russian invasion. When she went back in September, there seemed to be a major shift.

“I arrived basically the day this big counteroffensive happened in the east of Ukraine.”

Visiting in September and October, Ukraine had begun to take back control of some of the towns in the south and east. One place stuck with her.

“I spent the first few days going into recently liberated towns and villages,” Lonsdorf said. “Particularly one called Izume. People could remember that one became sadly infamous for having a mass cemetery they found of people who died during occupation.”

Lonsdorf said there were as many as 500 bodies in this one area.

“They were just digging up dozens and dozens of bodies,” Lonsdorf recounted.

With the liberation came some moments of joy, such as Ukrainians being able to wave their national flags for the first time since the invasion. But those small moments are almost always surrounded by constant reminders of how much work still needs to be done; Lonsdorf cited a video showing Russian tankers littering the streets of destroyed neighborhoods and infrastructure.

“If you really start to think about the scale of the problem and how much help the people need there. It can be really overwhelming. I was often overwhelmed. I was like oh my god what is going to happen here.”

For one leg of Lonsdorf’s journey, however, she knew exactly what was going to happen. She had already planned a visit to a woman she had met at a rubble site who, at the time, was searching for the bodies of her family members.

“I was like oh I’m from Wisconsin. And we were able to narrow it down she was like oh I’ve been to Madison. I’m like from right outside of Madison and she’s like oh I went to Verona- I’m from Verona!” Lonsdorf explained the interaction.

As it turns out, Ludmilla Boiko had spent time in south central Wisconsin years before, staying with Lonsdorf’s neighbors on the same street she grew up on.

“I took a picture with her and sent it to my mom who sent it to my neighbor. And my neighbor was like oh my gosh that’s Ludmilla! We haven’t heard from her this whole time we actually didn’t know if she was safe or not.”

The journalist did her own research and learned more about the woman she connected with— thousands of miles from home.

“She’s a trauma counselor. And she had partially been trained in trauma counseling in Madison. And so now she’s using a lot of the training she learned in Wisconsin to help her whole town,” Ludsdorf said.

While helping others, Ludsdorf said Ludmilla has a lot of trauma she is processing herself. She was never able to recover the bodies of her family members and still lives amidst the destruction every day.

“These little moments of joy but it’s also surrounded by this very serious awful thing. But you have to find the nuggets of joy. That’s humanity, right?”

Click here to download the NBC15 News app or our NBC15 First Alert weather app.