Natalia’s Story: Building a New Life from the Ashes of War

Natalia Chernysh never intended to leave Ukraine and become a refugee. After the Russians invaded Ukraine, Natalia, her daughter and father sat tight for a full month, hiding in a bomb shelter in the outskirts of Kyiv, in a neighborhood bordering Bucha. 

“The streets were flooded by local residents who destroyed the dam to keep the enemy from passing to Kyiv,” Natalia recalls. “We patiently endured the fear and horror that was happening in our bloodied country.”

But then the fighting came closer and closer to their home. The last straw was when a cruise missile destroyed a nearby shopping center where her daughter used to work before the war. Natalia packed her daughter, father, their two cats and a dog in her car and began a long, harrowing, convoluted, and often perilous journey —  first through active war zones and eventually to Lviv and then Poland. She hoped to stay there, but Warsaw and Krakow were both overcrowded and overrun with Ukrainian refugees. 

Natalia and her family decided to leave Europe and try to make it to the United States. In the process they had to leave their beloved dog behind, since they found no way to transport him.  

“We flew with a heavy heart and tears through Paris, Mexico City, Tijuana, and finally to the border with the United States.” 

By the time she made it to the border crossing, however, Natalia’s will to carry on began to wane. Her savings were gone and her father was sick on the road. But for the volunteers who helped them — first in Tijuana, and then Nova Ukraine here — Natalia may have given up altogether. 

“We didn’t have the strength to carry on and keep fighting,” she said. “It was incredible to feel the warmth these volunteers showed us. For the rest of our lives we will be grateful to them.”

Once they arrived in San Francisco, Natalia’s family faced a whole new set of hurdles. They could not afford the astronomical housing prices in California. Nor did they have money for necessities such as hearing aids for her father, driving lessons, or the $820 application fee for a work permit. They were even denied food stamps. Natalia seemed to have reached the end of her rope yet again. “I’m trying to look for a way to get by and can’t find it,” she said. “I can’t do everything. If we are denied a work permit … I’m afraid to even imagine.”

Fortunately for her, Nova Ukraine stepped in. First we secured emergency housing for Natalia and her family for a period of three months, until she can get settled and find work. Then, through our Adopt-a-Family program, we put Natalia in touch with a generous donor. The contribution she received went toward basic necessities: food for the family and the cats, a hearing aid for her father, and various application fees. 

“We feel infinite gratitude for the material assistance we received from your program and the generous donors that helped us,” Natalia wrote in her thank-you note. “We are touched and grateful for this compassion and generosity.”

Natalia and her family are one of more than 100 families that Nova Ukraine has paired with donors to date. For recipients, the program can be a lifeline at a very difficult inflection point in their lives. For donors, it is a personal way to see the difference their contribution makes. 

“I chose to donate to the Adopt-A-Family program to help Ukrainian refugees here in the U.S. since they deserve to feel welcomed and supported by their new community,” said Jaelyn Miles, one of the donors in our program. “I feel good knowing that I am helping them kickstart a new life here. The letter I received from the family helped me feel a connection to them.”

I feel good knowing that I am helping them kickstart a new life here. The letter I received from the family helped me feel a connection to them.

Jaelyn, an Adopt-a-Family donor

Many more families need your help. You can change a family’s life for the better with a donation through Adopt-a-Family.

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