Tamara Basova waited alone in a sea of bodies pressed together at the train station in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine. His mind filled with doubt and dread.
The city of more than 200,000 people was fleeing Russian troops, who had taken control of the nearby nuclear power plant. They were shooting indiscriminately from the installation.
After standing at the station for two days waiting for a train – any train – Basova was able to board a train to Lviv (the largest city in western Ukraine) and then went to Poland.
Basova is one of eight Ukrainians to have found refuge in Topeka. The two families arrived on Sunday. Their journey to the capital was facilitated by Yana Ross, who came to Topeka from Ukraine 16 years ago. She leads a refugee task force for the Greater Topeka Partnership.
After:Topekan close to his family in Ukraine: “They are in a more encouraging mood than us”
The father took his wife and children to the border and then returned to fight
Basova’s daughter and grandchildren fled Ukraine by car.
Iryna Nosok and her two children – daughter Daryna Nosok, 7, and son Myroslav Nosok, 4 – were taken to the border by Nosok’s husband. He then returned home to the war.
The Nosok were careful to stay in Ukrainian-held territory, as Russian soldiers had killed fleeing civilians.
Iryna Novak and her children met her mother, Basova, in Poland.
Basova’s train ride was less pleasant than her daughter’s. Cabins built for four occupants held up to 17.
“People were sleeping in the toilets, everywhere, because everyone wanted to run away,” said Iryna Nosok, who speaks English. The rest of the Ukrainians spoke through interpreters. “And it took them over 27 hours to get to Lviv, which normally takes eight hours.”
The train stopped whenever there was a feeling that bombs and Russian troops could cause damage.
After:Yana Ross, leader of the Topeka task force, helps Ukrainian refugees return home.
A mother fled Ukraine with three daughters
Natalia Pakhomova fled Dnipro, Ukraine, with her three daughters: Maria Ratman, 26; Daria Ratman, 14, and Olga Ratman, 12.
The lines merged as the family approached the trains, making boarding tight for the foursome.
Natalia Pakhomova and her daughters spoke through her sister, Luda Karnes, who came to Topeka more than 14 years ago to spend Christmas in America. She decided to stay, get married and make the capital her new home.
His sister came under very different circumstances.
“When we were there at the station, the whole day was like wet snow,” Pakhomova said. “So our feet got very cold because it was like slush on our feet.”
Originally they decided to go to Lviv, but it was too crowded, so they went to Hmelnitskiy.
“They had a fever, very high fevers when we got there,” she said of the children.
“I couldn’t believe they were going to kill civilians because when the war broke out we all thought they weren’t going to hurt civilians,” Pakhomova said. “In a war, if it is a political war, mothers and children should not suffer.”
After:Cut the Kansas Food Tax – and 3 More Ways to Help Ukraine After Russia Invades
“Mom was very afraid of never seeing us again”
Basova’s eyes filled with tears as her story was told.
“When they occupied the nuclear plant, a lot of people were in a big panic and they started fleeing, with children, with young children,” Nosok said. “Mom was very afraid that she would never see us again.”
“She decided to leave, only because she thought she could never see me and the grandchildren again,” said Nosok, an only child. His eyes began to water.
The mother, daughter and grandchildren stayed in a hotel in a wooded area thanks to Nosok’s employer, Samsung. Unfortunately, they were isolated from retail stores such as pharmacies, she said.
“Then when Yana (Nosok’s college friend) wanted us to go to the US, (Basova) was against it because she loves her homeland,” Nosok said, as her mother openly cried .
Basova consulted her two sisters and her brother who live in western Ukraine, near Poland. “‘Tamara, you should go,’ they said,” Nosok said.
After:Stop Putin ‘in his tracks’, says Christie Appelhanz, who served in the Peace Corps in Ukraine
“The longer we waited, the more people had the same idea”
“On the very first day of the war, we heard a big boom,” Pakhomova said. “My husband called me and he said, ‘Don’t take the kids to school because the war has started.’
“And then the same day he told me to go ahead and fill up my car with gas and go to the bank and get some cash so we can go to any time.
“So we stood in line at the petrol station for three hours because a lot of people had the same idea, then we went to the bank and waited another three and a half hours to get the money.”
Pakhomova and her family eventually found themselves in a no-win situation.
“The longer we waited, the more people had the same idea and the longer the queues at the station grew.”
After:Topekans showing the best of the capital with a task force to ease the way for Ukrainian refugees
They heard stories and saw videos of people being shot trying to leave.
“My mother and I were trying to decide what to do, leave or stay,” said Maria Ratman. “We were really worried about the children, so we asked their father for advice.
“Our father said, ‘It’s really dangerous to leave right now because they’re shooting. They’re shooting at trains, at people.’ So he advised us to stay and hide in the basement. ‘Soon it’s going to explode’.”
When the war got closer to us, the family decided to leave. Yet they also miss Ukraine.
They had a dog, Stephanie, a miniature pinscher, whom they couldn’t take with them, but they found her a new home. Olga Ratman misses him the most.
And, of course, everyone misses those they left behind. They stay in touch and cell phones make that easier.
After:Topeka leaders stand with Ukraine as Evergy Plaza lights up in country’s colors
Families are grateful to everyone who made their trip possible
Now they are settling down, at least for now.
“I asked my mother to accompany us because here in the United States, without her help, it would have been much more difficult,” said Iryna Nosok. “Because I need to work, and I work nights, and she cooks. She cooks perfectly!”
Because Ross, who Basova knows just as well, had requested that they stay with her, the move was easier. Basova finds her trustworthy.
Maria Ratman loves singing and art, especially oil painting. Daria Ratman likes to dance to music that is a mix of classical and hip-hop. Olga Ratman enjoys swimming and singing, and she has a tablet computer on which she enjoys creating digital art.
Daryna Nosok has been taking contemporary dance classes for three years and is interested in ballet. Myroslav Nosok is interested in astronomy and enjoys studying the planets. He knows all dwarf plants and loves magic.
The families are grateful to everyone who made their trip possible: people like President Joe Biden, who on March 24 announced plans to welcome 100,000 Ukrainians and others who hope to leave because of the war.
They are grateful to the people who helped them through ports and processing centers, those who housed them in refugee centers along the way (especially the one in Mexico City, where they were served borscht, Ukrainian beetroot soup).
They are grateful to the pastor of First Baptist Church in Chanute who lent them a van to travel to Tijuana, Mexico, and they are grateful for the welcoming arms of the Topekans.
After:Founder of Planting Peace, based in Topeka, Poland, which helps refugees arriving from Ukraine
Topekans welcomed Ukrainians with clothes, gift cards and more
They have already received help from several people in Topeka. The neighbors brought clothes. Several gift cards have been sent.
On Tuesday evening, a bunk bed was delivered to Ross’s home. Ross and the task force work on all issues in the Topeka system so that refugees around the world can rebuild their lives in the capital.
For more information on how to help refugees, call the Greater Topeka Partnership at (785) 234-2644.