Ukrainian Refugee Family: Transitioning to Life in America

By Christine Retkwa

The Ukrainian Refugee Assistance Project, organized by HMN members, is sponsoring a Ukrainian family that arrived in Minnesota in August. Here is the latest news.

It is time for an update on our friends Anton, Olha, and young Zlata.

The family moved into their new apartment in mid-December 2023. It was definitely a learning experience. It is not easy to communicate about the water not being hot or question noises overhead when one doesn’t speak English. So at times committee members communicated these concerns to the apartment management. 

There was an additional lack of understanding about the heat. Like many apartments in Minnesota, heating is paid for by the landlord and the renters have some control. Unfortunately, when Anton and Olha were told that they could set the heat as high as they wanted, they didn’t understand that just turning the heat up to 78 would not make them as comfortable as in a non-Minnesota winter. The weather here is much colder than they have been used to. With better comprehension of what was possible, getting home thermometers so they could measure the temp for themselves in a couple rooms, having their furnace kick in during a very cold spell in January, and acquiring some new warmer clothes, things settled into an acceptable situation. 

Anton and Olha experienced the American ritual of filing taxes with help from one of the free tax-prep events offered by Prepare and Prosper. Thankfully they were able to benefit from Minnesota’s child credit for lower-income families. 

Eventually the family made connections with a daycare center where Russian is spoken. And Olha started to train and then work there a couple days a week, so both she and Zlata began to get more interaction outside their home. Much more enriching than just being in the apartment with no transportation during the week! But transportation became an issue. Anton starts work at 6 a.m., so is not able to take them to the daycare center (he is able to pick them up at the end of the day). So they use a hired car for the morning trip. Time for Olha to study harder for her written driver’s test! 

While Olha did well with a translated test and never having driven, she was one answer short of passing the written test. Unfortunately, she has not been able to get a new appointment because she is working four days a week and appointments are hard to come by. So she has not been able to start her 90 days of road practice before being able to take the road test. Because we expect that she will pass before long – and certainly needs independent transport – the committee’s final financial activity (exhausting our project’s funds) was to buy the family a 2016 Chevy Cruze. 

This is likely the last installment of “HumanistsMN sponsors a Ukrainian family” series. Anton and Olha are managing their own activities, including shopping for their own cell phone service and insurance. So, as HumanistsMN’s engagement with this family comes to a close,  we all wish them the best, wherever that leads. 

Anton, Olha, and Zlata, the HumanistsMN Ukrainian Refugee Sponsorship team, and HumanistsMN’s Board thank all who have contributed financially or with tangible items to enable them to transition to life in America. 

HumanistsMN Ukrainian Refugee Sponsorship Team

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