Ukrainian refugees in US hopeful about returning home after 'victory'

Ukrainian refugees in US hopeful about returning home after 'victory'

People forced to flee war-torn country face language barrier, longing for loved ones

By Rabia Iclal Turan

WASHINGTON (AA) - As Russia's war on Ukraine enters its second year, Ukrainian refugees who had to seek refuge thousands of miles away in the US are hopeful of returning back to their country after “victory” and “independence.”

The US has so far welcomed more than 267,000 of the millions of Ukrainians forced to flee their homes. It launched the Uniting for Ukraine program to help refugees and the European countries who are hosting them.

Among them is Mykhailo Yaremenko, 39, who had to leave Kyiv after the war broke out on Feb. 24 last year.

“Me and my wife spent five or six days just living on the floor in the hall of our apartment,” he told Anadolu, recalling the days of bombing of Ukrainian cities amid sounds of sirens.

Working as a waiter at a restaurant in Kyiv, he said the eatery, supermarkets and everything in the city was closed, and they had to move to Lviv, the largest city in western Ukraine.

After days of trying to figure out what was going on and planning to evacuate his children from his first marriage, he finally found a job as an interpreter at Team Rubicon, an international humanitarian organization.

Spending seven months at the non-profit, helping internally displaced Ukrainians with medical care, Yaremenko said he started planning “to find the place where I can continue doing something useful and also earning some money just to support my family.”

Noting that he was allowed to leave Ukraine due to health issues, he began looking for options to settle in Europe.

“But also I started to text my new American friends, received support, and they helped me to move to the US,” he said.

In a flight from Barcelona, Yaremenko arrived in the state of Virginia, where he has a job he was offered before moving to the US, also known as the land of opportunity.

- Misses family

Asked how he feels being a refugee in the US, he said the government and the American people support Ukrainians “so well,” but he finds the judicial procedures and transportation “very different.”

“It's just just very big difference how people live in Ukraine of people who live in United States,” he said.

Leaving his parents, brother and wife behind in Ukraine, and his children in Poland, he says he misses his family, and is not allowed to leave the US for at least two years.

On the fighting in Ukraine, he said the war did not start last year but nine years ago in Crimea, when it was annexed by Russia.

"Ukrainians are united and don't want to be under Russia, they want to be independent," he said.

Asked if he is hopeful about being back to Ukraine one day, he said: “Of course when everyone can think that Ukraine will win and I really hope that almost every Ukrainian that moved abroad will come back.

“It's really my big hope and it's really my plan."

- Language barrier

While some of the Ukrainian refugees got better jobs, many are struggling primarily due to difficulty in speaking English.

Kseniia Rodionoca, 30, left her home town of Mykolaivka, Donetsk region the day Russia's "special military operation" began.

Recalling the conflict in Donbas in eastern Ukraine in 2014, Rodionoca said Feb. 24 reminded her of “bad memories."

When she woke up to the bombing again, she and her husband decided that their children “shouldn’t see the war, shouldn’t hear the bombing.”

“On the 24th of February we left our native town" via the Polish border with a group of 30 people, 15 children and 15 adults in seven cars, the mother of four said.

After eight months in Germany, she said, a friend of her husband helped them come to the US.

Since then, she has been living in California, receiving support from the US government including financial benefits, and help from a local church and volunteers.

About the difficulties of being refugees in the US, she said their main struggle is the “language barrier.”

“We have four children. It is a little bit hard to find good job with good wage,” Rodionoca said.

She said she “really miss” her country, home town, family and relatives, including her father and brother who are still in war-torn Ukraine. “It is very big pain in my heart."

Although she understands they should start a new life in the US, find a job and learn English, she says “my heart is with Ukraine.”

“I understand that all me and my family can do is to support Ukraine,” she said.

Asked if she is optimistic about returning to her home country, she remarked: “I think we have only one way from the war: It is victory. It is Ukrainian victory.

“We cannot have it otherwise. Only independence. Only victory. And we will see it.”

- 'Difficult to be far away'

Similarly, Alona Shkoda left Mykolaiv in eastern Ukraine on Feb. 28, along with her husband and two kids, who are twins.

They first crossed to Moldova, then to Romania, and Poland, before making it to the Mexican border to finally cross into the US with the help of their relatives in the country.

She said they have been receiving benefits from the US government, as well as support from the local community.

But, she added, it is “difficult to be far away from family, when your family is not safe.”

“My mother and my father stay in Mykolaiv. It is not a safe city now. My university was bombed,” the 29-year-old explained, with her eyes filled with tears.

Shkoda also listed the language barrier as one of the difficulties they face as refugees in the US.

She said her husband works in delivery and it is difficult to find a well-paid job because he does not know English.

On expectations of going back to Ukraine one day, she said: “The main thing we need to do is to hope to believe that it will end. And we see our relatives again.”

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