Simsbury family helps bring Ukrainian relatives to America with help from friends and neighbors – Hartford Courant

Hartford— “God told me we had to go.”

On the first night the Russians began bombing Ukraine on February 24, these seven words marked the beginning of the exodus of nine Ukrainians from a suburb of Kyiv to convents and churches in Poland and Portugal and then find a stable refuge in Simsbury.

The first family, Arina, Yana, Ievgeniia, Viktoriia and Nataliia (their surnames have not been provided for confidentiality reasons), landed at Bradley International Airport on June 15. The second family, Vitalii, Oksana and their 10-year-old son Savva and 7-year-old daughter Emma are still in Lisbon, Portugal, held back by the juxtaposition of two numbers on one of their passports . The hope is that they will arrive in Simsbury within the next few weeks.

They represent only a tiny fraction of the estimated 5.2 million Ukrainians who have fled the country since the Russian invasion, but who show the ingenuity and resilience of refugees and the will of family members and foreigners to provide humanitarian aid.

“We are relieved the process worked out,” said Simsbury resident Trina Cardinal, who led the effort to bring the nine to the United States. “I am very happy [the five] are here. We are so grateful to everyone who has reached out to help us. It was an overwhelming task to save nine people from Ukraine.

The Cardinals, cousins ​​of both families, did all they could to lend their support and find a way to get them to travel to the United States.

Although currently mired in a bureaucratic quagmire in Portugal, Vitalii, Oksana and their two children were the first to leave Ukraine when the fighting broke out. Oksana is the one who was jolted awake when the bombardment started and knew they had to leave the country.

They crossed the border into eastern Poland and were eventually housed in a church and supported by local families in Poland.

Oksana helped cook, clean and look after the children, as well as prepare rooms for other refugees who arrived daily. Vitalii worked to bring the women and children still in Ukraine to safety. In one case, he traveled 10 hours to Warsaw and back to help a family friend and a baby who were traveling alone.

Meanwhile, Arina, 6, Yana, 9, their mother Ievgeniia, their grandmother Vitkoriia and their grandmother Nataliia – Vitalii’s mother and his brother’s children, his wife and his mother – had planned to stay in Ukraine but fled when a nuclear power plant caught fire on March 4.

At that time, men between the ages of 18 and 60 were not allowed to leave the country, so the three women and two girls left for Poland.

Their journey was more arduous and dangerous than the first four. It took them three days to dodge war zones and endure the cold, marching to Poland to join Vitalii’s family living in the church in western Poland, Cardinal said.

“They were on a bus that drove for 12 hours from a remote town that borders Poland and Ukraine,” Cardinal said. “They walked half a mile with other people in 30 degree weather to cross the border. Then they went to a train station and took two trains, standing room only, to Vitalii, who was at a church in western Poland. …

“They stayed in churches and convents and really lovely people helped them.”

The nine qualified to travel to the United States through Uniting for Ukraine, a program that allows Ukrainian citizens to come to America provided they have a supporter in the United States who agrees to provide financial support during the duration of their stay.

The program provides a two-year parole period for families to stay, but they must stay for the full two years or they are not allowed back into the program, Cardinal said.

The cardinals agreed to bring their family members, but they had no room for the nine. In addition, they needed help with travel costs, most of which was airfare, as well as food and other necessities for the families’ arrival.

Cardinal has created a GoFundMe page, Cousins ​​helping cousins, to raise funds for the effort. So far he has raised just over $13,000.

People have come forward donating their air miles so the first group of five can fly to the United States. The other four tickets are managed by the Cardinals’ extended family and a friend.

As for the question of space – Cardinal said his family lived in a nice three-bedroom cape, but not big enough to accommodate the nine Ukrainians – chance intervened. Several months ago, two Harvard men set up a Ukraine Take Shelter website, a sort of Airbnb for refugees, where anyone in the world could tell they had space available in their home. for displaced Ukrainians.

“I wake up at 3am thinking I’m trying to save my husband’s family, where is everyone going to live?” said Cardinal. “I decided to go to the site. I plugged in Simsbury, CT, and this guy, Marty McMahon, showed up. He and his wife had three bedrooms and a bathroom for Ukrainians.

Turns out McMahon lives just two miles from the Cardinals.

“This website is a global website, and I thought it would be a needle in a haystack, but let’s see if there is anyone on this website who is willing to welcome Ukrainians,” he said. declared Cardinal.

When she asked her neighbor why he was opening his house to Ukrainians, he said his colleagues were going to the Ukraine-Poland border to help the refugees. “He said, ‘I couldn’t do that, but I could offer rooms in my house because I have a big house,'” Cardinal said.

With their acceptance into the Ukrainian parole program, and airfare and accommodation settled, the nine had only to travel to the United States.

A company in Poland had sold minivans destined for Portugal, according to Cardinal. The Poland-based company commissioned Ukrainian refugees, including the nine, to drive the minivans to Portugal.

“A company loaned Ukrainian travelers new vehicles,” Cardinal said.

So the nine ended up in a convent in Portugal, where they waited to get permission to fly to the United States. Four remain behind as officials work through Oksana’s passport issue.

Cardinal said U.S. Senator Chris Murphy’s office worked diligently to clear up the matter.

Meanwhile, Arina, Yana, Ievgeniia, Viktoriia, and Nataliia flew to Philadelphia, where they ran into another problem. The group’s June 14 flight to Bradley was cancelled, delaying their arrival in Simsbury by 24 hours.

The scene at Bradley on June 15 was “magical,” Cardinal said when the five finally arrived.

Ukrainians were greeted with signs reading “Welcome to America” ​​in Ukrainian and “Welcome to Connecticut – We Love You Cousins”.

The group was tired, Cardinal said, but everyone was smiling ear to ear.

“It was beyond magic because we had worked so hard for it,” she said. “It was mostly smiles and just happiness…a feeling of disbelief. I still feel like I’m living in a movie and I still don’t believe what’s going on.

The five inhabitants of Simsbury are currently adjusting to life in America. They speak little English.

“We use Google Translate a lot,” Cardinal said, adding that she also has a group of translators to help her. “We also have relatives in Ukraine who connect on Facebook Messenger” and translate.

The five, along with the Cardinals, attended a benefit concert at the Old Well Tavern on June 17 featuring musicians from Simsbury High, hosted by SHS student Katie Lepak. The event raised $1,001.

In light of the outpouring of support, family patriarch Max, who is fighting in Ukraine, expressed his gratitude in a Facebook post.

“A big thank you to Trina and the Rich Cardinal family for helping my family,” he wrote. “In difficult times, you have become a huge blessing to my family. My heart overflows with joy for what you have done. And to everyone who has helped you, a huge thank you. Tears of happiness on my face for what what you did. God bless your family.

There’s still a lot of work to do, Cardinal said, including getting approval for adults to work, enrolling children in school and finding medical providers, among others.

Cardinal says several companies have offered employment opportunities once adults have been cleared to work.

Along with the extended family, they need a seven-passenger vehicle, Cardinal said.

“We are looking for a donation,” she said. “We are sort of figuring it out as we go. I don’t have a master plan.

The main theme, Cardinal said, is that she found many people willing to lend a helping hand in difficult times.

“There’s more good than bad in the world, don’t you think?” she says. “We make lemonade with lemons.”

Gift cards and donations can be mailed to Fundraising Coordinator Ellen Naughton, 36 Massaco Street, Simsbury, CT 06070. Alternatively, donations can be made to the following organizations: Catholic Charities, Norwich CT Aid all people of all faiths, and is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization that provides documentation for tax-deductible contributions. Make checks payable to “Catholic Charities” with “Cardinal-Ukraine” in the check memo line. 100% of all donations go directly to the “Cardinal Family Helping Ukrainian Cousins” fund. Catholic Charities takes no fees. Send to: Catholic Charities, Diocese of Norwich, Attn. Susan Connelly, 331 Main Street, Norwich, CT 06360.

Ted Glanzer can be reached at [email protected]

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