Life As A Ukrainian Refugee | Crooked Media
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March 24, 2022
What A Day
Life As A Ukrainian Refugee

In This Episode

  • Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson faced her second day of questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday during her Supreme Court confirmation hearings. Like Tuesday, there were some moments of substance in there, but many Republican senators didn’t let up on a bad faith effort to drum up controversies around Judge Jackson that just don’t exist.
  • U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that the U.S. government formally accused Russia of committing war crimes in Ukraine. Part of the assessment was based on intelligence, but Blinken also specifically referred to attacks on civilians in Mariupol. Julia Knyupa, a Ukrainian refugee who is currently in Poland, joins us to discuss her experience fleeing the country.
  • And in headlines: Two tornadoes devastated New Orleans and killed at least one person, the Taliban turned away thousands of Afghan girls from secondary school, and Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon will DJ at this year’s Lollapalooza festival.


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Gideon Resnick: It’s Thursday, March 24th. I’m Gideon Resnick.


Priyanka Aribindi: And I’m Priyanka Aribindi, and this is What A Day, where we’re celebrating the return of live music by giving bartenders at venues an extra five bucks for $15 beer.


Gideon Resnick: That’s right. Give me the tallest can you have back there, and I’ll honestly pay $5 per inch of can.


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, and that line better be long.


Gideon Resnick: It will.


Priyanka Aribindi: I can almost guarantee you it will.


Gideon Resnick: On today’s show, we hear from a Ukrainian refugee about her struggles trying to flee the country. Plus, the newly-released lineup for Lollapalooza has an unexpected act: the CEO of Goldman Sachs.


Priyanka Aribindi: Plenty to come in the show. But first, an update from day three of Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation hearings. Yesterday, Judge Jackson faced her second solo day of questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee, and once again, we were treated to some great material from the senators asking her questions


[clip of Sen. Thom Tillis] Yeah, I’m not an attorney. I watch Law and Order from time to time.


Gideon Resnick: That’s also what I would say, to be totally honest. OK, OK. So besides that, how did everything else go yesterday?


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. So just so everyone knows, it continues to look likely that Judge Jackson will be confirmed to the court but that didn’t stop this from being a long day of questions. Like Tuesday, there were some moments of substance in there, but many Republican senators on this committee won’t let up on this bad-faith effort to drum up controversies around Judge Jackson that just don’t exist. They also repeatedly interrupted her and didn’t allow her to answer the questions they asked. It’s honestly a lot. It’s pretty embarrassing to watch, I gotta say.


Gideon Resnick: Yes. Let’s talk about some of those issues that do keep coming up like the sentences Judge Jackson has given in some child pornography cases. So yesterday, 10 Republican senators signed a letter calling for the probation reports from these kinds of cases that she had ruled on. Democratic chairman of the Judiciary Committee Dick Durbin would not sign off on that because those reports contain highly sensitive information about the victims. I have a guess here, but why is this issue in particular coming up repeatedly?


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. So on the surface level, it is incredibly strange that this is the issue that Republican senators like Josh Hawley, Lindsey Graham, and Tom Cotton seem to be zeroing in on. As we said yesterday, Judge Jackson’s sentencing in these kinds of cases is completely in line with most of her colleagues. But they know what they’re doing here. While it seems like a bizarre line of questioning to most of us, it plays right into right-wing conspiracy theories about Democrats. It’s very similar to what Ted Cruz and Marsha Blackburn are doing when they ask about critical race theory and if Judge Jackson thinks babies are racist. Several of these senators are looking ahead to 2024 and trying to take advantage of this national stage and attention and cameras to push every hot button that they can and see what sticks, what people respond to, you know, whether or not they’re valid criticisms. And in the case of Judge Jackson, it’s very much not.


Gideon Resnick: Right.


Priyanka Aribindi: Republican Senator Ben Sasse was the only Republican on the committee not to sign on to that request for probation reports. And he called out this behavior by his colleagues for what it is:


[clip of Sen. Ben Sasse] And I think we should recognize that jackass-ery we often see around here is partly because of people mugging for short-term camera opportunities.


Gideon Resnick: All right, I’m giving that the largest eye roll in the entire world, especially for the person who saying it. Yeah, I mean, I just think that every single Supreme Court confirmation that we have seen recently and that we will continue to see is a result of just like how insanely politicized the court has become, right? Like going into all of these things we just know, OK, 50 people are in, 50 people are not. So it is all just really grandstanding otherwise and there isn’t really like that much legitimate stuff that we’re learning through this.


Priyanka Aribindi: Truly. Like, really difficult. So there was like one interesting tidbit here in a whole lot of questions about a really high-profile case that’s coming before the court. Judge Jackson said that she would recuse herself from a case about the affirmative action policies at Harvard and the University of North Carolina. She serves on Harvard’s Board of Overseers. Her term expires this spring. And this is the first time she’s publicly said she would recuse herself from that case. But you know, that’s like one thing in a span of like how many hours that she’s been up there, just really addressing a lot of like the same things that they’ve been talking about over and over and very few original questions. I will say I think the most memorable moment, however, was an emotional exchange that she had with Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey. He is the only Black senator on the Judiciary Committee, and if she is confirmed, Judge Jackson will be the first Black woman to serve as a Supreme Court justice. He took a moment to acknowledge that significance.


[clip of Sen. Cory Booker] And I want to tell you, when I look at you, this is why I get emotional. I’m sorry you are a person that is so much more than your race and gender. You are a Christian, you’re mom, you’re an intellect, you love books—but for me, I’m sorry, it’s hard for me not to look at you and not see my mom. Not to see my cousins, one of them who had to come here and sit behind you, she had to have your back. I see my ancestors and yours. Nobody’s going to steal the joy of that woman in the street or the calls that I’m getting, or the texts. Nobody’s going to steal that joy. You have earned this spot. You are worthy. You are a great American.


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, that moment seemed to make her emotional as well, and you can hear it in Booker’s voice. And I mean, I’m looking forward to hopefully sharing some historic news about Judge Jackson soon. But it could be a couple of weeks or more before her nomination gets a vote in the full Senate.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, so we’ll be following all of that. But for now, let’s move to the latest on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. So first, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that the U.S. government formally accused Russia of committing war crimes in Ukraine. Part of the assessment. Blinken said, was based on intelligence, but he also specifically referred to attacks on civilians in Mariupol. Many of those reports we’ve talked about on this show. His statement mentioned only quote, “members of Russia’s forces” and not President Putin himself.


Priyanka Aribindi: Hmm. OK. This was happening as President Biden was arriving in Brussels for the summits today with NATO allies and the European Union. What should we know about those?


Gideon Resnick: Yeah. So NATO, in advance of the meeting, had already pledged to add more troops in Eastern Europe, and the Biden administration, for their part, is set to impose new sanctions on Russian lawmakers today. So that’s a little bit of where things stand diplomatically. But now we want to focus on refugees who have been fortunate to get out of Ukraine, and to hear about their struggles. So yesterday I spoke with Julia Knyupa, who is from Cherkasy, and is currently in Poland, where she is already helping other people in Ukraine escape the country as well. She is planning to go to the UK soon. I started by asking about the moments leading up to her decision to leave Ukraine.


Julia Knyupa: I really first called to my friend, which has a car, and we agreed even two days before. She was kind of not believe that it can happen. She was joking, OK, Julia, if it happen, of course I will bring you to the border, but it will never happen. But when it actually happened, I called her and asked if she really stay with this decision, if we can really move somewhere and she said, OK, we can move to my village, not far from Cherkasy so take your luggage and everything you need. So I gathered backpack. I really didn’t believe that it’s going to be another country or something. So I take only the documents, some clothes for tso days, laptop, and that’s it. No one believed that it could be so bad. But the next day we realized reading all the news and everything that we should move farther. So we planned the trip to the Ukrainian-Polish border the next morning.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, it’s horrifying. It really is. What were you sort of thinking as that was happening and you were waiting to get there and there’s some concern about safety. Can you talk about what you were thinking at that point?


Julia Knyupa: Yeah. We were riding and I saw a very beautiful sunset, and it was so beautiful that actually I was afraid it is the last sunset in my life. And we stopped on the gas station because we needed to get some fuel and I took a bottle of water to buy, standing in the line to buy it and it was very loud announcement from the speakers that it is air attacks, you should leave this gas station in this very moment.


Gideon Resnick: Wow.


Julia Knyupa: I tried to run as far as I can. And it was so stressful. You feel with your whole body, which help you to survive. I don’t run in my real life like usually, but at that moment I run really fast and I couldn’t find a car of my friend because everyone was running. My friend found me and I just really fast get inside the car and we ride as fast as we could. A lot of people deal with this every day and they deal with much harder stuff. But even this little episode of danger, it was a feeling like your body is the only property you have now and you have to save it.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, it’s unbelievable. What was it like actually getting to the border from that point?


Julia Knyupa: Usually, in peaceful times, getting to the border in Ukraine takes 8, 10 hours from our city. But this time it take three whole days—


Gideon Resnick: Wow.


Julia Knyupa: —without sleeping. And, yeah, it was a really crazy experience because the line, the queue near the border of these people who wants to cross the border, these cars, was about 20 kilometers.


Gideon Resnick: Wow.


Julia Knyupa: Yeah. And it was really scary to be in this line because it’s a really nice place to be bombed, to be attacked from the air because it’s a lot of people in one place—


Gideon Resnick: Right.


Julia Knyupa: —so you just stand and pray that nothing will happen.


Gideon Resnick: So how was it when you were actually at that point in this journey?


Julia Knyupa: So when we were at this line, everyone was very tired because you cannot sleep while you’re in this line because every five minutes you should move to five centimeters. Of course, no one expected that it will take three days to cross the border, so people didn’t have food and water. But on the second day, some people from nearest villages started to volunteer and bring us water and food. So it was a great experience that showed that Ukrainians, the nation, which is always going through so such stuff all together. Even war happens, they cook homemade stuff and bring to the border just to support people who are passing. A lot of moms with really little children were in this line because, you know, men are not allowed to cross the border. They have to stay. But some fathers brought their family and after that have to come back. So they are families across the border on foot. Actually, it is crazy when a mom with three children. And also there were some busses, like school busses, with children, without families, just they were evacuated, only the children. I cannot even imagine how, the, for example, six year kid feels when you have just to go somewhere in the bus without your family. So it was really crazy. Yeah, but on the third day when we finally get to the border to cross it, I also saw a big volunteering station from Poland. They brought a lot of, you know, water, everything could be needed for families. It was really an act of hospitality and help and humanity at that moment. And I felt OK. My biggest concern about crossing the border was that Europe going to close the border for Ukrainians and we going to stuck in these circumstances. But what really happened that Poland, for example, really did so much, and everywhere here you feel so much support and empowerment that I was really shocked by this.


Gideon Resnick: So Priyanka, that’s my conversation with a Ukrainian refugee, Julia Knyupa, who is currently in Poland.


Priyanka Aribindi: We will hear more from people like Julia, who have fled Ukraine, in the days and weeks to come on the show, but that is the latest for now. We will be back after some ads.


[ad break]


Gideon Resnick: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.


[sung] Headlines.


Gideon Resnick: Louisiana officials are searching for residents and surveying widespread damage after two tornadoes devastated New Orleans on Tuesday night and killed at least one person. According to the National Weather Service, one of the tornadoes hit Larcombe, and the other blew through the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans, as well as the St. Bernard Parish. While residents of southeast Louisiana are used to hurricanes, the St. Bernard tornado was the most powerful one the region has seen since 20173some really scary videos coming from this. During the storms, many families saw their roofs disappear within seconds, and others went to the hospital after suffering minor injuries. One woman had to be cut loose from debris by an eight-person search and rescue team, after her house was destroyed while she was still inside. Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said in a statement yesterday quote, “Unfortunately, our people have become all too familiar with rebuilding after tragedy and loss. But it is never easy.”


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, it’s so sad and just unimaginable to live in a place that you know, this happens year after year and just, I can’t even wrap my head around it. The Taliban turned away thousands of Afghan girls from secondary school yesterday, contradicting the group’s earlier promise to allow all students to attend classes starting on Wednesday. Ever since the militant group took control of Afghanistan in August, most Afghan girls over the age of 12 have not been allowed to attend school. Boys have been allowed back in the classroom at every grade level, as well as girls up to the sixth grade. The Taliban’s diplomat to the United Nations told NPR that the group needed more time to establish a uniform for girls in seventh grade and up, before allowing them back. But the Taliban walking back its commitment without announcing a new reopening date has many Afghan girls worrying that they’ll be banned from pursuing an education indefinitely. Sakina Jafari, an 18-year old who hoped to resume her year 11 classes yesterday but was turned away, told NPR quote, “Some of my classmates began weeping. We were so excited to return. And now we don’t know what will happen to us.”


Gideon Resnick: That is awful to hear. Turning to some important domestic election news, the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday gave the thumbs up to Wisconsin’s congressional maps drawn by Democratic Governor Tony Evers. However, the justices also blocked Evers state legislature map that would have created a new Black-majority voting district near Milwaukee. That map will go back before the state Supreme Court, which originally said that it was good to go. To state court will now have to reconsider it using different criteria. However, there is some time—Wisconsin’s primary is in August. Meanwhile, Priyanka, the clock is ticking in Ohio, where the primary is in just six weeks. So there map-makers went back to the drawing board this week after the State Supreme Court struck down a third set of legislative maps that were made for its upcoming primary. That means right now, at this moment, voters don’t know who might be on their ballot, candidates don’t know what their potential districts look like, and more.


Priyanka Aribindi: This is chaos.


Gideon Resnick: This democracy we are living in is going swimmingly. Republicans controlled the process for all three maps rejected by the state Supreme Court, so presumably their gerrymandering markers are almost all out of ink at this point. In its most recent ruling, justices said the latest map was not politically fair. But now Republicans and Democrats are working together to make a fourth map they can submit before the next deadline of this coming Monday.


Priyanka Aribindi: Love a group project. I’m sure that’s go great.


Gideon Resnick: Love, yes. Going to go great. Ohio always making me proud of my home state, of its political situation. Lovely.


Priyanka Aribindi: Speaking of things to make you proud of your home state: line-up for this year’s Lollapalooza festival in Chicago came out this week and just a few dozen lines below headliners Metallica, Dua Lipa, J. Cole, and Green Day for some reason, was a deejay not too many people will have heard of, but he is the only DJ on Earth who has experience dropping both beats and foreclosure notices on tens of thousands of home owners—oh my God!


Gideon Resnick: No.


Julia Knyupa: Goldman Sachs CEO, David Solomon. When he plays EDM, Solomon goes by the name D-SOL. He has been working at Goldman since 1999 and DJing on the side since 2015. He donates all the proceeds from his musical gigs to charity, leaving him to limp by on his $35 million a year salary.


Gideon Resnick: Oh my God.


Priyanka Aribindi: D-SOL has said that he doesn’t think his music hobby puts his finance career at risk—I mean, clearly, if you’re the CEO.


Gideon Resnick: He’s doing OK. Yeah.


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, glad you figured that out. Telling one podcast host quote, “I thought about it and I said, I enjoy this, I’m not doing anything wrong, I’m not breaking any laws. I’m having fun. Why should I stop doing something I’m really enjoying?” Potentially, D-SOL’s audience at Lolla will help answer that question of why he should stop Ding for him—or no! For an indication of what he’ll be bringing to the table, here is an excerpt from one review of a D-SOL set in Brooklyn from 2018— brace yourselves—quote, “While, I hated just about every song he played, I had to admit that he appeared earnest and genuinely enthusiastic about the music, and I appreciated that he was really going for it.” You know what? I like that they found something nice to say, and that’s great for whoever wrote this.


Gideon Resnick: That’s a solid 4.1 on Pitchfork rating right there.


Priyanka Aribindi: Lower, lower.


Gideon Resnick: Definitely lower. I also want to think of the poor, you know, DePaul freshmen who are going to be rolling on Molly at Perry’s and D-SOL pops up.


Priyanka Aribindi: I’m a little worried about what he’s in for with this crowd.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah.


Priyanka Aribindi: But that’s not a ‘me’ problem. So I guess I don’t to be too worried about it.


Gideon Resnick: It’s definitely not a ‘me’ problem, either. And those are the headlines. That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, leave a review for DJ D-SOL as well, and tell your friends to listen.


Priyanka Aribindi: And if you’re into reading, and not just the Lollapalooza lineup or foreclosure notices from Goldman Sachs like me—


Gideon Resnick: No.


Priyanka Aribindi: —What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at I’m Priyanka Aribindi.


Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.


[together] And keep practicing, D SOL!


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, one day that Pitchfork rating will be a seven.


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, yeah. Keep up the practice. I’m sure you’ll get there. Poor guy. I don’t know.


Gideon Resnick: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzi Marine and Raven Yamamoto are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran and me, Gideon Resnick. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.