JBLE Airman strengthens partnership with Ukraine

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Mikaela Smith
  • 633d ABW PA

On Feb. 12, 2022, Senior Airman Kostiantyn Khymchenko’s life took an unexpected but welcomed turn when he received a vital phone call.

“Hello?” he greeted.

On the line was Master Sgt. Aaron Washington, 633d Civil Engineer Squadron heating, ventilation, and cooling noncommissioned officer in charge, with a life-altering opportunity.

“Are you prepared to deploy to Germany?” asked Washington.

Khymchenko, momentarily taken aback, confirmed his readiness, “Yes, when?”

“Tomorrow,” stated Washington.

Less than 17 hours later, Khymchenko was enroute to Germany. Fluent in Russian and Ukrainian, he would serve as a translator. This role would prove pivotal, as 11 days later, Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

To understand the gravity of responsibility, dedication and service Khymchenko felt, his journey leading to this moment in life must be understood.

Khymchenko was born in Ukraine and lived there for a little more than 27 years. He worked as a customs officer in the Crimean Peninsula. When his wife was granted a position in a Diversity Immigrant Visa Program lottery, Khymchenko prepared himself for a new journey and opportunities in America.

In February 2020, Khymchenko joined the U.S. Air Force as an HVAC journeyman.

“I didn’t know what my life would be like in the Air Force,” stated Khymchenko. “As a green card holder, the selection for jobs is smaller and HVAC made the most logical sense. My focus was joining to provide for my family.”

Khymchenko began his military career at Joint Base Langley Eustis, Virginia and with only two years under his belt, his leadership has taken notice of his strong work ethic since day one.

“SrA Khymchenko has a strong work ethic that is simply awe-inspiring,” Senior Master Sgt. Ryan Krueger, 633d Civil Engineer Squadron operation’s flight superintendent. “Since the day he arrived at the unit, he has worked to become the best at his craft in a very short time.”

One of four Airmen in Air Combat Command who spoke Ukrainian, Khymchenko was the first to say yes to the mission. With his native home under attack, it was an easy decision.

All Khymchenko wanted to do was help save the lives of his people. Tearing up, he reflected on possible outcomes, if he still lived in Ukraine.

“Ukraine was my home for the majority of my life. They gave me my childhood, my education… If I was still in Ukraine, I would be fighting right now,” stated Khymchenko.

While deployed to the United States European Command, Khymchenko translated tactical maps, verbal communications, and other operational transmissions from Russia. His efforts saved millions of lives and critical assets from attack.

He recalls his time working side-by-side with many officers to help fortify Ukraine’s air defenses and the impact it had on him.

“I saw the big picture from the inside and I was amazed by the officers we have serving,” explained Khymchenko. “They are incredible at their job, and they work hard. They inspired me and I want to be like them.”

Upon his return from deployment, Khymchenko used his gained inspiration to take and pass the Air Force Officer Qualification Test. His contributions to the Ukraine mission were also recognized, as he was named one of the 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year.

“Khymchenko’s work ethic and dedication to the mission has made everyone around him better,” said Kruger. “This includes his peers, NCO’s and civilians… He is the right choice as one of the 12 Outstanding Airman of the Year, because he has done everything for the right reasons. If you ask Khymchenko, it has never been about awards, but about supporting the United States Air Force, our joint partners and his home country of Ukraine.”

Khymchenko couldn’t take all the credit for such a high honor. His team wasn’t far from his thoughts.

“It’s not only my accomplishment, but it’s the entire team’s,” stated Khymchenko. “All I did was try to do my best and help the officers I was working with in any way I could. My English is not perfect, but my Ukrainian is very good. I know Ukraine, I know what they need, I know their feelings, and I’m very proud and grateful that I was part of the team. I just wanted to help.”

When asked his final thoughts on his recent deployment, Khymchenko thought of his homeland.

“As an American, I’m blessed to live in safety, but over there, people are dying,” Khymchenko said in a serious tone. “I don’t know if it was God or luck, but [the deployment] changed my life and I’m just thankful I was given a chance to support Ukraine in another way.”