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    Wednesday, June 19, 2024

    Ukrainian St. Bernard senior can’t return home

    Editor’s note: The Day publishes an annual series of stories spotlighting outstanding seniors graduating from the region’s 16 public and private high schools.

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    Saint Bernard School senior Nikita Shovkomud poses before commencement exercises Friday, May, 24, 2025 at the Cathedral of St. Patrick in Norwich. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Saint Bernard School senior Nikita Shovkomud poses before commencement exercises Friday, May, 24, 2025 at the Cathedral of St. Patrick in Norwich. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Montville ― Saint Bernard School senior Nikita Shovkomud has done his best to live a normal high school life.

    For two years, the 18-year-old Ukrainian has lived in the United States on an F1 visa, which allows him to pursue an education in the United States. He has attended programming classes, played on the varsity soccer and track teams at Saint Bernard and forged a relationship with two host families.

    He graduated last week along with 53 classmates.

    While Shovkomud attended school, his parents remained in the port city of Odesa, Ukraine. Since 2014, the country has been engaged in conflict with Russia, the hostilities escalating into a full-blown war in February 2022 when Russia invaded Ukraine.

    It’s “hard to choose the direction, who’s winning, just because it’s not a race,” Shovkomud said. “And it’s just unfortunate how you can’t see the end of it.”

    “There were times that I was really nervous,” he said. “When something happened at home, when I thought that the explosion that happened last night was in my house.”

    Occasionally, while he was studying at home or putting together Lego sets, one of his favorite hobbies, Shovkomud’s peace was shattered by a news report or video that would cause him to worry about his family. About two months ago, he saw a video of a missile hitting a building that looked like the one where his parents were living.

    When he called them, they didn’t pick up.

    “I texted my brother and he was like ‘I don’t know, I think they’re fine.’ Apparently, it was a different building,” Shovkomud said. “But in that moment, I was thinking and then that day I was analyzing that it could have been my parents.”

    Shovkomud has lived with the Riso family in Clinton for the past year. His host mother Taylor Riso works in the admissions office at Saint Bernard.

    He said that often while studying he would think about his situation back home. He said his host sister Emerson Riso would notice his face get “serious.” But he said he did not see the use in being “all gloomy and gray.”

    “It’s not what would help me or anyone,” he said. “Especially my family, who are there and are worried about me. I’m trying to do my best to help them, which is to do something for me and it’s being who I am right now ― being positive.”

    Because of the war, men between the ages of 18 and 60 cannot leave Ukraine unless they are deemed unfit for military service for health reasons, or have an exemption, according to CNN, the cable news network.

    “So, for me, the whole problem is that I’m 18 and the military age to get drafted ― though I wouldn’t be able to go to the military, just because they usually draft people from 21 ― but still, it’s illegal to leave the country if you’re 18,” he said.

    That law, besides preventing Shovkomud from visiting his family, has created uncertainty over his future despite his being accepted to more than 10 colleges. He hopes to major in business and computer science at Husson University in Bangor, Maine.

    “Still right now, I’m not sure which university I’m going to go (to), just because the price tag for international students is really high,” he said. “Some Ukrainian students are also applying for TPS status, which is temporary protection.”

    Since he isn’t a citizen, Shovkomud said, he can’t apply for federal student loans.

    As Shovkomud continues to price colleges, he’s planned a summer trip to meet with his mother and female friends in Moldova, a country southwest of Ukraine.

    d.drainville@theday.com

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