On February 24, the Russian military invaded Ukraine and, since then, millions of Ukrainian citizens have been seeking safety in surrounding countries and the United States. Last month, one Ukrainian family found their safe harbor in Dunmore, with family member Dmitry Vershinin.
Vershinin’s sister, Yuliia, her husband, Dmytro, and their two daughters, Diana, 14, and Yeva, 10, arrived in America October 21. Yuliia applied for asylum in the United States through the Uniting for Ukraine [U4U] program, which helps Ukrainians who have family members in the U.S.
On November 18, the family shared their experience with The Pocahontas Times with the help of a translator on their iPhone.
The family lived in Kiev – the capital and most populous city in Ukraine.
“On February 24, at five o’clock in the morning, we woke up in Kiev from rocket explosions,” Dmytro said. “We received messages from friends that the war had begun.”
“After the calls from our friends, we immediately opened the Internet and realized that there were explosions and now the war would start,” Yuliia added. “There was no talk about the war.”
Although the missile attacks surprised the family, they said there had been some preparation for an attack. That week, the girls’ school had drills in which the students were taken to a fortified basement.
Almost immediately after the first explosion, Dmytro said the city erupted in a panic, with people trying to leave to find safety.
“We looked out the window and many already had suitcases and tried to leave the city,” he said. “There were huge traffic jams in the city. Many in Kiev were stuck in traffic jams. In general, people began to panic.”
Normal life came to an abrupt halt – schools were closed and work was suspended. No one went out unless it was completely necessary.
“They heard the constant flight of planes over Kiev and watched the news, and understood that something was happening in all regions, in all cities,” Dmytro said.
“On the fourth day after the start of the war, we decided to pick up the kids and leave the country,” Yuliia said. “First we went to Lviv [in Ukraine], then my children and I went to Poland. We lived there for one month and then moved to Germany.”
Dmytro was tasked with moving trucks and vans from Poland to Ukraine. The vehicles were converted into emergency or military vehicles and then moved to the front line.
“When we decided to leave Kiev and get to Lviv, closer to the border with Poland, we barely made it through the city of Kiev because there were roadblocks everywhere,” Dmytro said. “It was very hard to leave because all the trains were full and there were five to ten people for one place [seat].”
“It was really scary,” Yuliia added. “I didn’t know what I was doing, but I felt that I must bring the kids and go away because it was so scary.”
Yuliia said it was difficult when they were in Poland because they didn’t know anyone there and didn’t know the language. Once they were able to move on to Germany, although there was still a language barrier, she was able to stay with a friend, which was a great help.
The family was in Germany for six months before their application to U4U was approved and they were allowed to come to America.
Dmytro stayed in Ukraine until September because of the work he was doing. He witnessed the destruction and devastation from the war, and was grateful when he was able to join his family.
“Until September, I was in Ukraine all the time – so all these months and days, I saw what was happening there,” he said. “I traveled to different cities and saw what war is. So for me, the most important thing is that my family is safe. Now I watch the news and communicate with relatives from Ukraine.”
The move to the United States was difficult for the family, again because of the language barrier and leaving behind family and friends, but in the end, it was important to find safety for themselves and their girls.
“We understand that this can still go on for a very long time,” Dmytro said. “Therefore, as long as there is an opportunity, we will be here. Now, for example, there are attacks on the energy infrastructure and people in Kiev and other cities. It’s just that for many hours there is no light, no water, no heating. So it’s not safe to be there, it’s very unsafe for anyone.
“Therefore, we are very grateful to Dmitry and the U4U program for such an opportunity that we were able to get here, that the children went to school for the first week,” he continued. “Here, we have applied for a work permit and therefore now we are waiting for all the documents. At least, we’re safe.”
Dmytro doesn’t speak English and Yuliia learned some in school, but said since she doesn’t speak it every day, she’s a bit rusty. They are both in the process of applying for work visas. Dmytro has a degree in economics and Yuliia has a degree in civil aviation engineering.
Both Diana and Yeva learned English in school as well, and are continuing to hone their skills now as students at Green Bank Elementary-Middle School.
Diana is in the eighth grade and Yeva is in the fifth. It has been a hard transition for the girls – mainly because they miss their friends and the school curriculum is obviously different – but they are happy to be here.
They are having a hard time adjusting to the earlier start time. Yeva, in particular, said that in Ukraine at 7 a.m., she was still in bed, but here, she is at school. Diana was in the ninth grade in Ukraine, but is in the eighth grade here so the girls can be at the same school.
They are still figuring out their schoolwork and both enjoy school lunches. Classroom size is a big change for the girls. In Ukraine, Diana was in a classroom of 42 students and Yeva’s class had 44 students. Here, they are in much smaller classes.
Although, 2022 has been a difficult year for the family of four, in the end, they are grateful to be safe and together.
“This year was difficult for us,” Yuliia said. “We could not imagine that we would be able to collect things in one bag in one day. You left without understanding what was going on and how things were going to go. While we were in Poland and then in Germany, it calmed down a bit and I realized, well, this is how it is needed. There’s a situation that you can’t prepare for and you’re just happy to be safe.”
Moving to Dunmore is quite a change for the family, compared to the big city of Kiev. The girls were thrilled to see deer in the backyard one morning because in Ukraine, they could only see deer in zoos. Nature sightings and the mountains are a big, but welcome change.
The family is currently without a vehicle, so while the rural area is nice to look at, it is harder for them to get to the store for groceries. When Dmitry is out of town, the family is left without transportation. They are in the process of getting a vehicle, however, so it won’t be long before they will feel even more at home here in the hills of Pocahontas County.
“We really like the way the locals greet us,” Dmytro said. “Everyone here is friendly and everyone offers help and support. This is what we really appreciate. It’s very beautiful here. You have the nature and mountains.”