Outstanding Okilko

Ukrainian singer, transfer student shines at South


Max Beitzel, asst. features editor

In 2021, sophomore Lidiia Okilko was uprooted from her native country, Ukraine, and traveled alone to Glenview, Illinois in search of safety away from the war-ravaged place that she once called home.

Okilko was the first of 15 students at South who fled Ukraine due to the war and have had their lives drastically changed during the Russian invasion, Counselor Matt Topham said. Her transition to South in March of last year was difficult, full classes being one of many reasons why, but Okilko was able to acclimate while still staying connected to her schooling back home, Topham explained. 

“[Okilko] was on Zoom [attending] her classes in Ukraine at night and then was getting up and coming [to South] in the morning,” Topham said, “[It is] remarkable that she was doing school online at night and coming here during the day.”

Although she had help from counselors such as Topham, the transition to a different continent was still an extremely mentally challenging experience for Okilko due to the worries she had for those back home.

“[When I first left Ukraine, I frequently thought] ‘Why do I have [to] experience [this when] kids in other countries [have the ability to] study and can hang out with their friends and live a normal life, [but] I cannot because of the war in Ukraine?’” Okilko said.

Although she is dealing with the emotions of leaving Ukraine, she is still able to maintain a positive attitude in life, Topham explained.

“What I think is the one of the most wonderful things [about Okilko is], she always has a positive spirit about her,” Topham said. “No matter how tragic everything is, she finds joy in meeting new people and coming to share stories with me.”

When leaving Ukraine, Okilko wanted to bring a piece of herself with her. She began singing at 9 years old, so she found her community in music classes. Okilko was excited to show off her talents at South’s variety show, she explained.

“[The Variety Show] was the most fun and memorable experience of my life,” Okilko said. “We had so much fun together during the rehearsals and I love the process of creating huge shows that are going to be watched by thousands of people. It is such an amazing feeling.”

Although grappling with trauma from the experiences she had when fleeing Ukraine, Okilko continued to want to educate herself in school further, she explained. 

“At South, the staff members were so supportive; whenever I needed to talk to somebody, they were there for me,” Okilko said. “The students at [South] are such an amazing community that also helped me.”

One of the classes Okilko was eager to engage herself in during her first year at South was with Austin Smith, her freshman English teacher. The language barrier was not much of an issue due to the fluency Okilko has in English, which helped with her involvement in class, Smith explained.

“[The transition] definitely had some [difficult times], but she is really outgoing [and] would engage with their group members,” Smith said. “During class time she would share and volunteer during whole class discussions which helped her connect with others.”

Although not an easy process in any regard, Okilko’s transition to South has been a large success, she explained. 

“One really important thing [is to] cherish every single little moment because when you lose it all it will hurt a lot,” Okilko said.