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'Connection now is our power': Young Ukrainian shares images of war-torn country with Colorado friend

Friendship began with happy picture, now continues with documentation of destruction
Destroyed buildings in Ukraine
Posted at 10:56 PM, Apr 12, 2022

BROOMFIELD, Colo. — Andrew Lenec’s friendship with Denys Shevchenko was cemented with a picture.

“He and a good friend of his borrowed my camera, and they took a selfie,” said Lenec. “I didn’t know until later that day when I was looking through the memory, and I’m like, "What a cool picture! That’s a keeper."”

Selfie of Denys Shevchenko
Denys Shevchenko and friend in a classroom in Ukraine

Lenec is an American and lives in Broomfield with his family, but he has Ukrainian heritage and spent years in the country serving with the Peace Corps and teaching English. Shevchenko, only 15-years-old at the time, joined his class.

“He really wanted to learn the language,” Lenec recalled. “And he was just so cool. He was just one of the coolest young people that I’ve ever met.”

The two have kept in touch online, and still connect by sharing pictures. But today, those photos show an older Denys Shevchenko and a devastated Ukraine.

Destroyed buildings in Ukraine
Buildings destroyed in Russian attacks in Ukraine

Shevchenko, now 20-years-old, has been risking his life with his friends to drive through Ukraine, delivering food and supplies that have come in from other countries. Along the way, they've been documenting the destruction they find and the dangers they encounter, sharing pictures with their Ukrainian and American friends online.

“When I took picture with this rocket, I just see my brother and his family,” Shevchenko said of a picture showing him holding a spent Russian rocket. “I just take a photo for my memory, for my feeling in this time.”

Denys Shevchenko with spent Russian missile
Denys Shevchenko poses with spent Russian missile

“Connection now is our power,” Shevchenko said. “I just sit, and I think, ‘How can I help for military? For medicine? For people? How can we help our country get stronger?’”

As Shevchenko fights for his country, his friend in Colorado sees the power of the human spirit and the costs of war.

“I’m just so impressed and so proud of him,” Lenec said. “He has seen horrendous stuff, but he’s still a kid.

Food and aid delivery in Ukraine
Denys Shevchenko and his friends delivering food and supplies throughout Ukraine

“He has grown up in five years, from a fun-loving kid who used to walk with me in the streets of Chernihiv to standing on a tank, to standing next a missile that’s taller than he is, an exploded missile," said Lenec. "And he’s just doing what he needs to do.”