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Ukrainian family flees war zone and finds refuge in America

The Shulzhenko family was living in Kharkiv, near the Russian border. They said it got much too dangerous to stay. They've now lived in Central Texas since April.

AUSTIN, Texas — Plenty of people across the U.S. are celebrating freedom as Americans, but other countries are currently fighting to keep their independence. As the war continues in Ukraine, people are still leaving their homes to escape the violence.

Irina and Oleg had to leave their home in Ukraine because they said it was getting too dangerous, especially for their kids, Stacy and Matthew.

“It’s mainly government objects near our house, near our apartment. So, at any moment you can catch a bomb,” said Irina Shulzhenko.

Encountering a bomb at any moment was their reality. They watched from their house as government buildings in their Central Square got bombed. They were only about 1.5 miles away.

After they left Ukraine, they first went to Poland and then made their way to the U.S. through a humanitarian program. They chose Central Texas because they had friends in the area. But they had never been to the U.S. before moving to the Austin area in April.

They say affordable housing was hard to find and that the weather is hot, but they love Central Texas so far because of the welcoming people.

“People who surround us, it's very friendly and they're very helpful in supporting us,” said Irina.

Their family is getting assistance from Global Impact Initiative (GII) in Austin right now. GII helps refugees from many countries and is currently helping seven Ukrainian families who recently had to relocate to Central Texas.

Their family plans to take English language classes through GII.

“So, classes with the Austin teachers, we have two hours per week,” said Irina. “And we plan to start ESL class in Austin Community College.”

Stacy, who is going to be a senior this next year, started high school in Leander for the last few weeks of the school year.

“It was pretty exciting to meet new friends and to talk with them,” said Stacy Shulzhenko. “It's different how they live here and what traditions do they have.” 

Although she said she wanted to go by Stacy, that is not her real name. But she says she has found it to be easier to use here in Texas.

“My full name is Stanislava, so Stacy is a lot easier,” she laughed.

As the four of them adapt to life in a new country, after enduring the scary reality of war, they now have hope for the future, whether that is here in the U.S. or home in Ukraine.

“We don't know when the situation will be better in Ukraine and we will be seeing in the near future what we can do,” said Irina. “Maybe return or maybe stay, we don't know.”

If you want to help Ukrainian refugees in Central Texas, you can donate or volunteer with Global Impact Initiative.


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