New Lenox resident, English teacher in Ukraine, left the country just in time

But Greg Aimaro is worried about his friends and hopes to return soon.

Greg Aimaro of New Lenox is constantly watching news broadcasts of the situation in Ukraine.
Aimaro lived in Chernihiv from September 2021 until February 2022. He is still paying rent on his apartment and had planned to live in Ukraine for several years. He was set to teach history at a local university and previously taught English to children in the Ukraine. He can speak English, Ukranian and Russian.

Greg Aimaro of New Lenox constantly watches news broadcasts of the situation in Ukraine.

Aimaro lived in Chernihiv from September 2021 until February. He still pays rent on his apartment and had planned to live in Ukraine for several years, he said.

“When everything got very intense, I went home,” Aimaro said. “I have a lot of friends there right now. … It’s very nightmarish what’s happening there.”

Aimaro said it’s frustration that he can’t protect his friends. Thankfully, they still have internet, so Aimaro is able to communicate with them. He also helps them with money transfers when he’s able, Aimaro said.

For safety’s sake, one of his friends went with her husband and daughter to their summer home in a village in the vicinity of the region that then came under attack, Aimaro said.

“They are in that village and it’s surrounded by Russians,” Aimaro said.

Aimaro said he became interested in Ukraine because of his family history. His great-grandfather as from Pryluky in northern Ukraine. He was of the Jewish faith and the only one of two brothers who came to the U.S. during the German occupation of the region, which saved his life.

“I’m very grateful, actually,” Aimaro said. “Because if my great-grandfather hadn’t moved from there, I would never have been born.”

Aimaro said he studied Russian in 2014 when he was a student at Lewis University in Romeoville. After he graduated, he studied Ukrainian at the Ukrainian Research Institute, Harvard University and Indiana University, where he wrote his master’s thesis on the German occupation of the region, he said.

His first trip to Ukraine was in 2015, which also was the first time he went to Pryluky. From 2017 to 2019, Aimaro taught English in Pryluky through GoCamp, which organizes free language camps through Ukraine, according to the GoCamp website. Aimaro said he’s also taught English in Nizhyn.

“Ukraine is a very poor country,” Aimaro said. “I think it is the poorest country in Europe. So helping children there learn English, by giving them an opportunity for better their lives, is something that’s very fulfilling for me.”

During this time, Aimaro did research in the archives and met individuals who connected him with a few people who survived the German occupation, Aimaro said.

“They helped with arranging places for me to stay and providing me with food, all at their own expense,” Aimaro said.

Since he’s lived in Ukraine, Aimaro has volunteered for the nongovernmental organization Anomaly, which provides “unconventional solutions for problems in Ukraine ... from education to social reform,” according to its Facebook page.

Aimaro said his main role was connecting organizations associated with Anomaly with academic institutions. He also was set to teach history at a local university, he said.

“The city where I was living – they bombed residential blocks there today,” Aimaro said Thursday. “The archive where I did my research for my topic, that was in a building hit by Russian artillery shells. Allegedly, the archive has burned. So all the documents related to the Stalinist period, the Nazi occupation, they’re all destroyed. That itself is a huge loss and a huge tragedy.”

Aimaro is hoping he can help the refugees in Poland or Romania.

“I love these people,” he said. “I speak their language. I speak Ukranian and I speak Russian, as well. I can be of use.”

Aimaro hopes a cease-fire will occur soon or that some safe corridors will be opened so civilians can escape, he said. Aimaro said the Ukranian people need prayers, which is a way anyone can help them.

Still, he is very proud of the Ukrainian Army.

“It has fought very well and protected, largely, all of the cities form being taken over. But that can change any day,” Aimaro said. “The Russians have them outgunned and outnumbered.”