Ukrainian refugee family reunited with relatives in U.S.

April 14, 2022 NBC News By Kelsy Kershaw and Andrew Davis

WESTFIELD, Mass. — When the bombing started, they hid in the basement.

Ivan Yemelianov, 36; Liudmyla Yemelianova, known as Myla, 38; and their four young children fled their home near Kyiv, Ukraine, almost two months ago, after Russia invaded their country.

From their new home in Westfield, the couple recalled their long journey from Eastern Europe to the U.S., where they touched down at John F. Kennedy International Airport on April 6. They spoke in Ukrainian and Russian through a translator.

“When the war started, we heard explosions, when the shelling was happening. And we had to go to the basement,” Myla Yemelianova said. “At first, they [the children] didn’t understand what we were doing there, were frightened a little. It was, of course, scary. We had to hide. And when we come here, of course we feel calm, safe.”

The parents and their children — Viktor Filimonov, 11; Milana, 6; Anna, 2; and Veronika, 9 months — are among about a dozen Ukrainians who were resettled in the U.S. in March through the federal refugee program. Another 704 Ukrainian refugees have been resettled in the U.S. since October through a separate State Department program.

Additionally, thousands of Ukrainians have massed at the U.S.-Mexico border to request asylum.

Ivan Yemelianov was a user experience designer with Kyivstar, one of the largest telecommunication companies in Ukraine's capital. Myla Yemelianova was a technical engineer at an aircraft factory before the births of Anna and Veronika.

The family spent about two weeks traveling roughly 700 miles from Kyiv to Vinnytsya, then on to Chernivtsi in western Ukraine before going to Suceava and Bucharest in Romania. They stayed there for about a month before flying to the U.S.

“Even after the war had already begun, we could not fathom that it began. There was a feeling that it could not be,” Ivan Yemelianov said. “The first two weeks, maybe longer, we could not react normally to sudden noises.”

 
Anna, 2, standing with her grandmother at the playground across the street from her family‚Äôs new home in Westfield, Mass., on April 7. Anna, 2, standing with her grandmother at the playground across the street from her family’s new home in Westfield, Mass., on April 7.Julian Spath / Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service — a faith-based nonprofit organization that works exclusively with refugees, asylum-seekers and other vulnerable populations — helped the family get settled and acclimated to their new home.

The organization is among nine resettlement agencies in the U.S. that take over once a family or individual is granted official refugee status from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.

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