LOCAL NEWS

Provo neighborhood welcomes Ukrainian refugee family with parade

Apr 11, 2022, 10:15 PM | Updated: Jun 11, 2022, 10:34 pm

PROVO, Utah — A Utah County neighborhood is giving a refugee family from Ukraine a warm welcome to Utah, making sure they feel loved and supported after fleeing from their home.

Monday evening, a crowd gathered on a street on the east side of Provo. Neighbor Becky Call passed out small Ukrainian flags. Some carried posters as they walked. A few held bouquets of bright yellow flowers.

Everyone was eager to meet the new neighbors and awaited their arrival.

Lena Graff walked up the street to help make the introductions. Soon after that, two women and a teen girl appeared from inside a home and walked toward the crowd. As they arrived, they were handed the flowers and greeted with smiles.

“This is my little sister,” Lena said as Sveta Samaileko walked into the crowd. “This is my niece, Sveta.”

Sveta Vladon also walked up. Lena then introduced her other sister and Sveta’s mother, Oksana Vladon.

Sveta, 14, is named after her aunt.

The two sisters Sveta and Oksana don’t speak English, but the younger Sveta is learning.

Lena explained to her neighbors what the three went through as they spent more than a month trying to get from Ukraine to Utah.

Sveta, who lives in Kyiv, left the day the war started and began to head west toward Poland to get across the border. As Lena translated, Sveta explained that her boyfriend called and told her that bombs were falling into Kyiv, and she needed to pick up and go.

Oksana and Sveta, Graff explained, live in a village 200 kilometers from Kyiv. Because Sveta is in school and Oksana’s husband is fighting in the war, they weren’t sure what to do, so they waited.

Lena said she called them one day and told them they needed to get out. She found them a car that picked them up an hour later.

They didn’t have time to say goodbye to other family members or friends.

“They literally grabbed a hoodie and that’s it. They left everything,” Lena said.

Oksana and her daughter spent days dodging Russian troops, taking a week to make what’s normally an eight-hour drive to the border, Lena said.

They walked across the border into Hungary.

While their home in Ukraine is still OK — where Oksana’s husband is still fighting — Sveta’s home is a different story.

“Her apartment is completely demolished; there’s no more apartment,” Lena said, talking to a neighbor. “Whatever she had, her possessions are all gone.”

Lena took off for Europe and met up with her sisters and niece in Hungary. After four days in Hungary, they flew to Amsterdam and spent a week trying to secure visas to Canada.

Eventually, everyone made it to Calgary. Lena returned home, and then later decided to try to get her sisters and niece into the U.S.

“I drove to Calgary, got them in the car and drove to the border,” Lena recounted.

She said that border patrol handed them visas on the spot.

“And here they are. I couldn’t believe it. I was really happy, and they couldn’t believe it.”

Sveta left behind her boyfriend, who works for the police at a security checkpoint, and Oksana’s husband will continue fighting in the war. Lena said they’ve been able to talk with their significant others and hope to eventually reunite.

But right now, the women are safe.

Fleeing from chaos, Sveta, Oksana and Sveta arrived to an outpouring of kindness.

After they gathered and met the family, they spread out along the street. The four walked down the middle of the road as everyone cheered them on, waving Ukrainian flags.

The sisters smiled, looking around them and seeing newfound family, friends, and community.

“I just want them to know that we’re all in this together,” said Becky Call, the neighbor who organized the welcome parade.

Sveta expressed her gratitude for the support as Lena translated.

“She said it’s absolutely amazing that everyone came together, and saying hello and welcome,” she said. “And I feel really blessed.”

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Provo neighborhood welcomes Ukrainian refugee family with parade