Stories: Arsenii & Olha
“I will say it’s very true that the U.S. is the country of opportunities”
Refugees from Ukraine rebuild a new life here but yearn for their family to be together
At only 16 years old, Arsenii was a competitive dancer in Ukraine, traveling all over Europe to perform.
His life changed overnight when he awoke to the sounds of bombs exploding and planes flying low over his hometown of Kyiv.
The teenager’s school and dance schedule was no longer a priority—Arsenii and his parents were trying to survive. They spent days in and out of a basement bunker. Grocery stores were emptied out. They saw craters in the ground where homes used to be.
Out of fear for their lives, Arsenii and his mom made the impossible choice to flee. This decision was made even more difficult by the fact that his father would be required to stay behind to help with the war efforts.
After moving through eight countries in Europe and spending three months in Spain, Arsenii and his mother Olha were able to make their way to Chicago. They now live in a northwest suburb, relieved to have a safe place to call home again.
Arsenii video chats with his father every day, sometimes with the sounds of war in the background. It’s heartbreaking to be unsure when they’ll be reunited. And life in the U.S. isn’t without challenges. It’s difficult to master English, start work or school in a new country, and process the trauma of loss and war.
With assistance from RefugeeOne, Arsenii and Olha will apply for asylum in the U.S., just like hundreds of Afghan evacuees we helped this year. Being granted asylum will offer them long-term safety and stability.
“I will say it’s very true that the U.S. is the country of opportunities,” says Arsenii. With a warm welcome and support from friends like you, he got enrolled in school where he has quickly adapted, and he’s begun dancing again. Olha is eager to start working as soon as she receives her work permit, hopefully in line with her background in clothing design. (She designs all of Arsenii’s dancing outfits!)
They deeply hope their small family will be reunited to build a life together in Chicago. In the meantime, they’ll keep up their daily video chats and continue working toward their goals.
As of December 2023, Arsenii and Olha are among more than 5,000 Ukrainians who have walked through the doors of RefugeeOne this year to seek help as they rebuild their lives. They’re alongside hundreds of others we’re serving from around the world—Afghans, Congolese, Syrians, Rohingya, Guatemalans, and elsewhere.
Your generosity means refugees are not left to face challenges alone. Through English classes, employment coaching, legal guidance, mental health care, volunteer mentors, and so much more, newcomers are given the opportunity to start again.