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Academia Hernando presents: “The Crisis in Ukraine”

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As the world turns its attention to Ukraine, guests can learn more about this captivating place at the next installment of the spring edition of the Academia Hernando community learning series. Missionary Damien Austin will present “The Crisis in Ukraine” at 10 am on February 17, at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 2301 Deltona Blvd., Spring Hill.

Speaker Damien Austin has extensively served in Ukraine “My name is Damien Austin. I was born in Peterborough, N.H. in 1955. I was a factory worker, first in electronics and then in plastics. I moved to Florida in 2000 where I continued working in plastics as a mold technician. I attended Bible College and earned my Bachelor’s degree in Pastoral Arts. My ambition was to become a missionary,” read an event notice. “During my Junior year I met my wife, Melanie. We both attended Westwood School of Missions. We made our first trip to Ukraine for the Christmas holiday of 2010. We spent the summer of 2011 in Ukraine and we moved to Ukraine as temporary residents in 2012. We teach English and Bible. I became the pastor of a church with a small congregation and we teach children in our village on Saturdays. We partnered with another church to provide humanitarian aid to the homeless for four years. Our goal has always been to help Ukrainians help Ukrainians.”

Academia Hernando is a not-for-profit lifelong learning organization that provides quality instruction and learning experiences for adult students throughout Hernando County and beyond. Their goal is to inform, educate and inspire adult learners through a series of weekly lectures on a wide variety of topics.

Austin feels deeply connected to the people of Ukraine. He shared, “In 2014 Russia invaded the eastern part of Ukraine and annexed Crimea. It was a sad and difficult time and our families were very worried about our welfare, but we stayed in Ukraine to help refugees coming into our area. We returned to the states a few times over the years, usually for three months at a time. In January of 2022, The U.S. Embassy gave us strong warnings to leave Ukraine for our own safety. We left Ukraine on February 8, and Russia and Belarus invaded on February 24. The world watched the war unfold with all its atrocities. We are living at our home in Florida, but our hearts are in Ukraine. We are living in a question mark as our future residence in Ukraine remains a mystery.”

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Through his Academic Hernando presentation, Austin hopes to enlighten audiences about life in Ukraine. “I am honored to be able to speak to the group about my life in Ukraine,” he said. “I plan to share some of the history of Ukraine as well as some of the culture and cultural differences. I would like to share some video footage relating to cultural folk dress and food and I hope to enlighten the people about the similarities as well as the differences of our cultures and attitudes. I will speak of the current situation regarding the war and the relief efforts of so many organizations to help.”

He also plans to offer valuable insights regarding cultural differences, and similarities, between western and Ukrainian cultures. “I’ll explain the relationship between Russia and the Ukraine, and how Ukrainian culture is becoming more and more similar to our own, here in the U.S.,” he said. “In many ways, it is these similarities that led to the current conflict with Putin.”

Sharon Printz, board member of Academia Hernando, is looking forward to welcoming Austin to the Academia Hernando stage. She stated, “Drawing from the knowledge he learned as a missionary, Damien Austin will tell us of the courage of the Ukrainian people, and the future of the Ukraine.”

Academia Hernando presentations begin promptly at 10 am and last two hours with a 15-minute intermission. The spring series continues via presentations of “Spies, Lies and Betrayal” on Feb. 24, presented by Col. Mike Pheneger and “Simon & Garfunkel” presented by Bruce Gobioff on March 3.

To register for the entire lecture series in addition to an excursion that will take guests to Chinsegut Hill, print the registration form found at https://www.academiahernando.org/fall-series and mail with your check for $80 payable to Academia Hernando Inc. and mail to:
Bev Nuzzi
15027 Middle Fairway Drive
Brooksville, FL 34609

Checks also can be brought to an Academia Hernando presentation; in addition, walkin admissions are available at $15 per presentation. Visit https://www.academiahernando.org/ for more information or call (352) 345-8345.

Megan Hussey
Megan Hussey
Megan Hussey is a features journalist and author who is the winner of Florida Press Association honors and a certificate of appreciation from LINCS (Family Support Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention Task Force) and Sunrise Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Center for her newspaper coverage of these issues. She graduated cum laude from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., with a journalism major and English/sociology minor, and previously wrote for publications that include the Pasco editions of The Tampa Tribune and Tampa Bay Times. A native of Indiana, she lives in Florida.
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