This column was submitted to LebTown in partnership with the Cougar Media program at Palmyra High School. Read our submission policy here.

Despite some skepticism that Russian President Vladimir Putin would ever invade Ukraine, for nearly three months the world has witnessed the destruction of cities and civilians. No one knows this better than former Palmyra High School student-athlete Alex “Sasha” Coburn, who is currently stationed in Kyiv fighting in the war.

Born in Ukraine, Coburn was placed in an orphanage at age 6. In 2015, he got involved in a hosting program through which he was introduced to Palmyra residents Patricia Coburn and Brian Coburn, his now adopted parents, as well as his adopted siblings, Payge, Brian, Brady, Bronson and Bryce.

“Palmyra was great,” said Coburn. “I loved the little town, and especially the big-hearted people.

“I found my church family at Palmyra Grace Church, which has been a huge support for me during this difficult time.”

Coburn played soccer and wrestled for PHS, and he finished his athletic and academic career in 2019. The adoption process took Patricia and Brian Coburn to Ukraine three times in the course of a year. At age 16, Coburn legally became a part of his American family.

“Sasha was given so many wonderful experiences here in America. We are so proud of the man he has become and are so thankful that he is part of our family,” Patricia Coburn said.

In January 2022, Coburn returned to Ukraine to attend a Discipleship Training School and decided to stay to become a missionary.

One month later, Russian forces invaded Ukraine and officially began the unprovoked war. Since then, the lives of ordinary Ukrainians have changed drastically.

Refugees have fled the country and have gone to seek shelter in neighboring countries such as Poland, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia.

“My life has changed radically, for example for the last month I’ve slept in bed only twice. Before Russia started a full war against my homeland I was a missionary with YWAM (Youth With A Mission). I was helping people and sharing my faith,” Coburn said. “I do the same thing now but in military uniform and a rifle.”

Coburn, like many Ukrainians, had mixed feelings about if, or when, the war would happen. Some were preparing, and some believed it would never happen.

“I knew it would happen sometime but not when it actually did,” Coburn said.

According to the United Nations, more than 4 million Ukrainians have fled; half of those are children. Most fathers have stayed back to engage in the conflict by providing aid, medical attention, or fighting in the war.

Coburn’s family and many others from Palmyra are showing support during this difficult and stressful time. Patricia Coburn connects with Coburn daily through Facebook Messenger.

“Support in this time means a lot from anyone, but (support) from the family is a special motivation,” said Coburn.

Coburn currently has no plans to return to the United States. He is determined to fulfill a responsibility.

“I’m not here to fight. I’m here to defend… defend people, freedom and my homeland Ukraine,” Coburn said.

Lauren O’Brien is a sophomore at Palmyra Area High School. She has been involved in the Cougar Media program for two years.