Monadnock Ledger-Transcript – Ukrainian family arrives in Wilton as part of the Uniting for Ukraine program

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Early in the morning of February 24, while sleeping in their apartment in Kyiv, Ukraine, Kiril and Olha Necheporenko were awakened by a loud noise.

It was far, but not so far that it was unidentifiable as an explosion.

The couple had been watching the news for days. They had heeded the advice to pack a bag, prepare travel documents, and be ready to leave at a moment’s notice if they had to.

This time had come. Russia had invaded Ukraine.

When they left their home, they took two suitcases, their cars and nothing else. They expected to go further into Ukraine and eventually return. Eight months later, after bouncing around in several places with their young son, Simieon, helping with relief efforts and just trying to survive, the couple have settled in Wilton, where they plan to spend at least the two next few years under President Joe Biden’s Uniting for Ukrainian Refugee Program before applying for citizenship.

Flee Kyiv

Kiril and Olha were a normal couple. Married for six years, they had their first child and lived in the Ukrainian capital. Kiril was a real estate agent. Olha, a painter, gave art lessons and had a workshop in their condominium.

As they listened to rumors of Russian aggression against Ukraine on the news, they had no idea how their lives would change.

On that morning of February 24, when they were woken by this loud noise – which turned out to be an explosion a few hundred meters from their home – they had no idea how chaotic their lives were about to become.

But they knew they had to go, at least for a while.

With their two suitcases and important documents in hand, they left their condo, after contacting a few friends to notify them of their departure and tell them that they had to go out too.

Initially, Kiril said, the plan was not to leave the country, but quickly the scale of what was happening hit home.

“There were kilometer lines for gas. Traffic was everywhere. It was very difficult to escape from the city,” Kiril recalls. “It was like the Hollywood movies, in the days of the apocalypse – you knew the world had changed forever.”

After reassessing with some neighbors who were also fleeing Kyiv, Kiril and Olha decided their plan to stay in the country was no longer viable, and they headed for the border – only to discover lines of cars of at least 12 miles long waiting to cross. As they stopped and tried to figure out what to do, they were approached by someone who told them he knew of another waypoint, and they decided to follow him.

It was not an easy journey, including forest roads and sometimes quite off-road, but that night the Necheporenkos had entered Moldova, a small country sandwiched between Ukraine and Romania.

‘I believe in miracles’

The Necheporenkos had made it out of Ukraine safe and sound, but they were not alone. Thousands of people fled across the border. Hotels were booked and there was nowhere to stay.

“I believe in miracles,” Kiril said. “Our escape from Kyiv – a total miracle. What happens next, also a total miracle.

What happened next was that Kiril and Olha were at a gas station, trying to figure out their next move, when they were overheard by a resident who offered to let them stay the night after. having heard that they were Ukrainian refugees.

It was the first time the family had received compassion from someone in the world who was shocked by what was happening to their neighbors, but it would be far from the last.

After only staying one night in Moldova, the Necheporenkos moved on to Romania, where they were offered accommodation in a hotel that provided them with free breakfast and food for the road – another miracle.

“You see this compassion, and it’s everywhere,” Kiril said. “People are affected. They want to be part of this huge wave of support.

The family eventually landed in Italy, where Kiril left Olha and Simieon to head to the Polish-Ukrainian border to help with relief efforts and bring supplies to Ukraine. Eventually, his family joined him there. For a while it looked like they were on the verge of building a life in Poland.

The weight of war

“It was hard to plan,” Olha recalls. “Because I expected, the first days, that the war would end. But by then it was abundantly clear that this was going to be a long and difficult war.

The couple asked a friend to close their apartment and distribute their belongings to people who had remained in Ukraine but had been displaced from their homes.

“We had to build a life from the beginning,” Olha said.

They started to learn Polish and tried to make a living there. Olha said she was able to enroll their son in school and he started learning Polish songs and words. She started selling her paintings and thought she could make a future out of it.

Kiril said he liked certain aspects of Poland. The people were hospitable and the cost of living was low, but he didn’t speak the language well enough to find a job in his field, and it was also close to the Ukrainian border, which made it increasingly difficult for him to comfortable. on.

Although he was not afraid that Russia would try to push its invasion into Poland, he said the threat of a possible nuclear attack, which could have wide repercussions, was always on his mind.

Coming to America

As Kiril and Olha escaped from Ukraine, across the ocean, Wilton’s Ken Jacobus watched the events unfold on television and said he knew he wanted to help – even if he didn’t know exactly how.

“Like a lot of people, I watched the news in horror. I couldn’t focus on anything else,” Jacobus said.

He had no connection to Ukraine or Poland and did not speak the language, but said he felt compelled to go there and add his hands to the volunteers helping refugees.

“I said, ‘I’m just going to go out there and figure it out,'” Jacobus said.

That’s what happened. After hearing about a volunteer working in Poland, Jacobus contacted him and asked how he could contribute. The volunteer had already returned to America, but had a contact for Jacobus – Kiril Necheporenko.

The two did not work together much while Jacobus was in Poland. Kiril was working to get military supplies to Ukraine, and Jacobus wanted to focus his efforts on helping refugees meet their immediate needs, like housing. But the link was made.

Later, when Kiril and Olha were thinking about where to go next, Jacobus was a contact he had in his phone.

As Olha and Kiril speak English, seeking asylum in North America was an option. First of all, they considered Canada and even sent documents to apply for visas. But after sending the passports to the wrong address and having to wait weeks for them to be sent back – without a visa – and other paperwork hassles, Kiril said it seemed like a sign it wasn’t the good place for family.

After careful consideration, he sent a video of his family to his American contacts, asking if anyone would be willing to sponsor his family.

Jacobus was one of the people who received the video.

At first he said he was hesitant. He had looked into the logistics of sponsoring a Ukrainian family and knew what a big responsibility it was. He had to agree to be financially responsible for the family for the next two years, and he knew little about the Necheporenkos at the time. A friend indicated that the video had probably been sent to a lot of people and someone else would probably help.

But, said Jacobus, what if everyone assumed that someone else would help?

In the end, he was caught up in a recurring thought: “If someone asks for help, you should help them.”

He agreed to meet Olha and Kiril and discuss becoming their godfather, and after being assured that they had done their research on what it would take to live in America, he agreed to do so.

As part of the Uniting for Ukraine program, Jacobus had to agree to be financially responsible for the Necheporenkos. Part of that meant helping them find housing. Jacobus said he and his wife considered the idea of ​​buying a second property to rent out, specifically to teachers at nearby High Mowing School, but never did until the opportunity arose.

The two bought a house and outfitted it with basic furniture. Jacobus said the Necheporenkos would live there rent-free until they could settle down and Kiril could find work.

Olha said they were ready to share space in the Jacobus home, and when she found out they would have their own space, she was ready to have to outfit it from scratch.

She said it was the little things in the house that touched her the most – adapters for the sockets of their European appliances, a footrest in the bathroom so that their son could reach the sink or a bouquet of flowers on the kitchen island.

The area is very different from Kyiv – which is Ukraine’s most populous city – but Olha said the scenery was therapeutic for her. And for Kiril, being far from the Ukrainian border has been a burden for him.

They said they knew it would be difficult to start their lives over again – again, having tried the same thing in Poland – but said this time they were in a place where they knew the language and had connections to help them.

“Our plans today is just to start our life, from the beginning,” Kiril said.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 603-924-7172 ext. 244 or [email protected] She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.

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