I have a three-year-old, and my hope was always to take him to see where I grew up — now I can’t do that, because it’s all ruins.”

That’s Longmont resident Valeria Schweiger on her hometown of Mykolaiv, Ukraine. Like much of the rest of the world, the 45-year-old mother of two has been watching the news with horror as war engulfs the region. But for Schweiger, who sometimes still dreams of walking the streets of her youth, the bloodshed hits close to home.

For today’s top story, I spoke with Schweiger about what it’s like to watch structures in the place closest to your heart reduced to rubble. The Boulder Community Health employee opened up about the grief, fear and anxiety she’s been feeling these past couple weeks. “It could have been my hospital that was bombed,” she said. “It could have been my baby. It could have been me.”

I was moved by Schweiger’s story, and I’m honored to share it with you this morning. Find it below, along with the latest on the Marshall Fire debris clean-up suit, a disaster stress management workshop, extended health coverage deadlines for fire victims and more.

Until Monday,

– Jezy, managing editor

Valeria Schweiger, a Boulder County resident originally from Ukraine, hikes Mount Sanitas with a four-legged friend. Courtesy: Valeria Schweiger

Quickly

🧑‍⚖️ Hearing set in Marshall Fire debris clean-up suit: A Boulder County District Court judge on Monday scheduled a hearing on a lawsuit brought by former FEMA Administrator Michael Brown. The suit alleges the county violated open meeting laws when it awarded a contract to DRC Emergency Services LLC to clean up debris at homes destroyed by the Marshall Fire. The lawsuit seeks to block the contract. The case could delay the taxpayer-funded clean up, which the county estimates will cost about $55 million. The hearing is scheduled for March 18. (See the response from the county.)

🗳️ Voter registration options for disaster victims: Boulder-area state representatives Steve Fenberg (D-Boulder) and Sonya Jaquez Lewis (D-Boulder County) introduced legislation on Tuesday that would allow Marshall Fire victims to continue using their home address for voter registration, whether or not their home is still standing or inhabitable.

🚌 Transportation needs survey: Boulder County and partners are seeking to understand the transportation needs of residents affected by the Marshall Fire and associated straight-line winds. The survey is open through March 31.

👩‍⚕️ Health coverage extension: Marshall Fire victims and those affected by the Covid-19 pandemic may still apply for health coverage for 2022 via Connect for Health Colorado. But don’t delay — the deadline to apply is next Wednesday, March 16. Schedule a free appointment with a Health Coverage Guide or call 303-441-1000.

Correction: Wednesday’s edition of BRL Today erroneously identified new Boulder Environmental Advisory Board appointee Brook Brockett as “the first transgender applicant appointed to a city board or commission.” She is among the first board or commission members belonging to the transgender community, but is not the first.

Top Stories

‘It could have been me’: A Ukrainian-American in Boulder County watches war unfold from over 5,000 miles away

Valeria Schweiger has lived in the United States for 25 years, but she still dreams about her hometown of Mykolaiv, Ukraine. 

“I walk the streets. I go to stores. I still sometimes go to school,” she says. “And even though my dreams are in English — weird, right? — I still hear the Russian language, because that’s what I was speaking for most of my years growing up there.”

Schweiger was born in what was then the Soviet Union. The Iron Curtain fell when she was 13, and her home country of Ukraine declared its independence two years later while she was in high school. Schweiger came to the United States with her then-husband in the late nineties, getting by with a pocket English dictionary in the Boston metro for a few years before moving to Westminster, Colorado in 2004 — the same year she became a citizen.

“I hated it at first, because I really got spoiled by living next to the ocean,” she says of adapting to her new home on the Front Range. “I lived in my country close to the Black Sea. I like the feeling of being able to go to the beach if you want. It was kind of weird in Colorado, surrounded by mountains and manmade lakes.”

Schweiger moved to Boulder in 2011, where she helped build a home for herself and her family with Habitat for Humanity Colorado. Today she lives in Longmont and works as a patient care associate at Boulder Community Health. After more than a decade, she has adjusted to the life she’s made for herself in the landlocked Centennial State.  

But life here hasn’t been without its tragedies.

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BRL Picks

🌎 Sound off on climate. The first audio recording from the city’s climate resiliency conversation project, Sounds of Hope, is now available. Want to participate in the next installment? Text a recording to 303-818-4678 or call 303-818-4678 and leave a voice message.

🥃 Fire water. The Love Your Neighbor Whiskey Project from Boulder Spirits is seeking to raise $45,000 for Marshall Fire Victims through sale of a special single malt whiskey blended from four batches and selected by local connoisseurs. Pre-purchase your numbered, limited-edition bottle here.

💆 Self care for disaster victims. Overwhelmed after the Marshall Fire? A panel of local experts will share tips for recognizing and dealing with acute stress after disasters during two workshops, March 30–31. Register here.  

🍽️ Food to the rescue. Interested in becoming a courier with Boulder Food Rescue? Sign up for a 90-minute online new volunteer orientation at 6 p.m. on Thursday, March 24. Complete the volunteer intake form to get started.

COVID Updates: March 11, 2022

  • 51 daily new cases (7-day avg.)  Down 33% over preceding 7-day avg.
  • 9 patients hospitalized with Covid (7-day avg.) Down from avg. of 40 since July 2020.
  • 55% percent of ICU is occupied. Down from avg. of 71% since July 2020.
  • Free tests available. Every home in the U.S. is eligible to receive two sets of four free at-home, rapid Covid-19 tests from the federal government. Already ordered your first set? Order a second one today.

What We’re Reading

📖 ConocoPhillips vs. Redtail Ridge. On April 19, residents of Louisville will decide the fate of the undeveloped and controversial plot of land formerly owned by Storage Technology Corp., now known as the ConocoPhillips property — or Redtail Ridge. The property has been called a “crown jewel” and the “best land site in Colorado.” [Boulder Weekly]

📖 Coloradans will automatically be charged $29 for state parks pass. The state’s Parks and Wildlife Commission on Wednesday approved a $29 price for the new “Keep Colorado Wild Pass.” The pass will be part of every vehicle registration in the state (unless you opt out). It could generate more than $54 million a year for 43 state parks. [Colorado Sun]

📖 After Marshall Fire, understanding damage to our soils. CU Boulder researchers have set out to study whether the Marshall Fire resulted in the contamination of soils in the fire-affected areas. It’s an important question for residents looking to rebuild, and for future fire victims. [CU Boulder]

ICYMI from BRL

🏠 Green housing expert offers advice on rebuilding after the Marshall Fire with resiliency and long-term cost savings in mind. “Passive house” building consultant Andrew Michler discussed the outsized contribution of buildings on carbon emissions, the “unprecedented” Xcel Energy incentives for Marshall Fire victims and more.

👩‍⚖️ Boulder’s Community Court has dismissed hundreds of nonviolent charges related to homelessnessSince launching in October 2020, the city’s grant-funded program has sought to send fewer of the people experiencing homelessness to jail.

🎞 New Boulder documentary cracks open the conversation on race, place and belonging in “the happiest city in America.” This Is [Not] Who We Are premiered last weekend at the Boulder International Film Festival. We talked to filmmakers Katrina Miller and Beret Strong about their new film tracing the roots of racial inequity in Boulder.

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– The BRL Team

Jezy J. Gray

I’m the managing editor of the Boulder Reporting Lab. In addition to years of writing on the culture, politics and history of my home state of Oklahoma, I was the final editor-in-chief of the Tulsa Voice, a local bi-weekly newspaper where I led a small but mighty team of journalists to regional and national honors in feature writing, diversity reporting, LGBTQ+ coverage and more. I look forward to listening to and learning from the Boulder community as we work together on telling the stories that matter here.