ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — A Ukrainian family, now re-located here in Monroe County is speaking out about their journey fleeing to America, and gave an inside look at the impact that Russia’s war with Ukraine is having on people like them.
The Kokovskyi family lived in the City of Ternopil when war broke out. They discuss how they made the difficult decision to leave their homeland with only a couple of bags of clothes. Now they want to tell their story to show that the people of Ukraine still need help because of this war.
Iaroslav and Mariia Kokovskyi are trying to stay positive now that they and their daughter Yana are safe, albeit with the memories of what Russia’s aggression brought on them last February remaining in their minds — forcing their hometown to sleep in basements because they are too scared to go outside.
“With the first siren everybody had to drop everything and go into basements,” Mariia Kokovska said. “In a multi-story building, there’s only one basement. Nobody was ready for that; those basements are in dangerous conditions. There’s nothing there, just rats and dirty. So, when we saw people had to sleep on the ground and stay there for days with no access to water, we knew we had to leave.”
The Kokovskyis had enough time to only pack up a couple of bags of clothes before heading toward Poland. Spending days, they maneuvered among the three and a half million Ukrainians the United Nations said fled in that same direction. All in the bitter cold before reaching the border and a three-day wait for a train.
“We saw so many cars abandoned because the lines were so long,” Iaroslav Kokovskyi said. “People literally grabbed their kids and walked in 20 degrees F to save their lives. Panic and chaos, we heard several people died there.”
After getting his family settled in Poland, Iaroslav was required to go back to Ternopil, where he volunteered to protect the city and help refugees passing through. It was then, that his daughter Yana began to feel the burden of the war and wrote letters to her dad reading “Please God, let my father know that I love him very much.”
“My daughter saw the panic that was going on outside when we went outside and saw the dirty basements, she saw people screaming,” Kokovska said. “When my daughter heard sirens, she would run around and screaming. She still ducks when she sees the airplanes flying above and is fearful to sleep at night. She was asking every day about her father.”
Since resettling in Webster with Mariia’s cousin, Yana has been able to attend summer camp and can enroll in school this fall. Meanwhile, Iaroslav and Mariia are trying to find work and save up for their own place to avoid sharing a bedroom altogether. They encourage Americans to reach out and help other Ukrainians in the same situation.
“Unfortunately, we heard it may take up to eight months for a work permit,” Kokovskyi worried. “In Poland, she was able to work from day one. They are grateful for the host family, but they’d rather be independent. If Americans would continue to support Ukraine with donations rather it’s through time, efforts, or help.”
If you would like to donate to help the Kokovskyi family, their relatives in America have created an amazon wish list to help them buy essential household items and clothes. To help them, click here. The Ukrainian Federal Credit Union is also excepting checks that can be made out to Ukrainian Culture Center with the memo Ukrainian Refugee Help to benefit other families.