Stories: Kateryna & Oleksander

Photo Credit: (Erin Hooley / Chicago Tribune)

From Shells to Safety

Ukrainian family escapes the besieged city of Mariupol and find peace in Chicago.

Kateryna never imagined the harrowing journey she would take this year.
She and her 12-year-old son Oleksander lived in Mariupol, Ukraine when the Russian invasion began in February 2022. The city was an early target for airstrikes.
Despite the shelling, they decided to remain in the city at first. The attack was so unexpected, “no one really knew what to do,” recalls Kateryna. They believed safe passages to leave would remain open if needed. Plus, it was their home.
Would you choose to stay in your home, too?
Kateryna and Oleksander took shelter from continued bombing in the weeks that followed. Kateryna’s experience as a nurse led her to administer first aid to those around her. Many died in her arms. She describes those days darkly: “We didn’t eat, we didn’t shower, we lived in the worse of conditions.”
Soon, there was no home to speak of. Kateryna saw her own apartment building bombed.
Humanitarian corridors were no longer open, but Kateryna and her son were lucky to find a neighbor with a car and rode with her to flee the city. After a dangerous drive through active war zones, military checkpoints, and an area seeded with landmines, they made it out. Kateryna says she was so sure of her own death that a chance at life in another place felt like being born again.
Throughout the journey, Katerina was in touch with an old family friend who had been living in the Chicago suburbs for almost 30 years. That friend helped organize travel through multiple countries and was there to meet Kateryna and her son when they finally arrived to the U.S.
Once they made it to Chicagoland, Kateryna found herself among hundreds of Ukrainian refugees now facing the challenge of building a life in a brand new place. She reached out to RefugeeOne for support.
“Everyone who I have met [in the U.S.] has been so incredibly welcoming and helpful,” Kateryna says. “For me, life will be better here. Ukraine is still dangerous everywhere. Mariupol is just ruins. No family are left.”
Even knowing the challenges they face ahead, Kateryna sees a bright future in Chicago for herself and her son. “Oleksander loves it here! He is already making friends with people of all kinds: Americans, Mexicans, Ukrainians, Belarusians. They are helping to teach him English.”
Her dream for herself is to recover her documents, get her degrees translated, and get back to work in nursing. “I would love to get a job helping those who have suffered similar situations,” she says. 

Thanks to support from friends like you, RefugeeOne is there for hundreds of Ukrainians like Kateryna and Oleksandra who found their way to us. We are serving Ukrainians at our headquarters and at satellite offices around Chicagoland near where many Ukrainians are settling.
 
Your donations help refugees navigate applications for employment authorization and public benefits, explore legal pathways to permanent U.S. residency, and access RefugeeOne’s English classes, job coaching, youth program, mental health care, dental clinic, and more.
Thanks to support from friends like you, RefugeeOne is there for hundreds of Ukrainians like Kateryna and Oleksandra who found their way to us. We are serving Ukrainians at our headquarters and at satellite offices around Chicagoland near where many Ukrainians are settling.
 
Your donations help refugees navigate applications for employment authorization and public benefits, explore legal pathways to permanent U.S. residency, and access RefugeeOne’s English classes, job coaching, youth program, mental health care, dental clinic, and more.

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