Putin's invaders destroyed home of Natalia, Katerina, and little Tetyana in Hostomel, a city in Bucha district where the most brutal and devastating war crimes happened, but Robert and Dale created a new home for them in Highland Park, Illinois. The first part of this story is all-too common for tens of thousands of innocent Ukrainian families, but the second part is all-too rare.
When Russia unleashed its barbarism on Ukraine in February, 2022, causing widespread death and destruction, Robert and Dale quickly signed up with UkraineNow to offer their U.S. home as a refuge for Ukrainians displaced by the war. They might not have known then what the process would be, what the demands and challenges they might face as hosts, but they did know that they must act.
It took four months, but at last a match was found – Natalya, her nine-year old daughter Tetyana and her sister Katerina were approved under the Uniting for Ukraine (U4U) program for asylum in the United States and Robert and Dale's generous offer was accepted. From a shattered home in Ukraine to a safe haven in Illinois, one family was rescued from war, out of harm's way.
After just over two months, under the gentle guidance and steady support of Robert and Dale, Natalia, Tetyana and Katerina have adapted to their new life and are thriving. With Robert and Dale shepherding Natalia and Katerina through the labyrinth of government offices and programs, medical insurance, food assistance, and
English-language classes, were arranged for the new members of the family. Dale and Robert then raised funds for a used car which gives Katerina and Natalia mobility and independence. This journey wasn't only a new experience for the Ukrainians, it was also a learning and humble experience for Robert and Dale as they encountered new agencies, new programs, and a new administrative world beyond their daily routine.
Tetyana is a bright and engaged student, functioning well in English. She is an outstanding art student, rides her bike, swims on weekends, attends Ukrainian school once a week and takes tennis lessons. Tetyana misses her father, still in Ukraine, but has found a new and energetic "playmate" – she and Robert have a daily romp playing dodge ball, filled with laughs. Robert and Dale are currently raising funds for Tetyana to attend summer camp. Dale and Natalia and Katerina swap recipes and cook each other's favorite national dishes.
Robert and Dale are also helping Natalia and Katerina advance their education. Both sisters have enrolled in free English classes at a local library and now are preparing for further training in college.
While much has been lost for Natalia, Katerina and Tetyana in leaving Ukraine, something of great value has been found – a new family. And Robert and Dale, too, have gained much from opening their home, and their hearts, to suffering refugees – they, too, have a new family. "Our experience was nothing but positive, and Natalia and Katerina are very appreciative of everything our family and community has offered them," says Robert.
Many factors contributed to the positive outcome of this experience; government support programs, organizations like UkraineNow, but the secret of success lies with all parties having the determination to tackle any challenge, patience with the uncertainty of new and unknown situations, and most of all, genuine goodwill for one another.