Tatyana Lukash said her life was turned upside down in February when Russia invaded Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city and home of Lukash, her husband and teenage son.
“We had a decent life. We had everything we needed. We are alive and God is bringing us here (to Wisconsin). We’ll try,” she said.
Lukash and her 15-year-old son went to Poland in March and she spent months looking for a more stable living situation.
Her 45-year-old husband, a welder who is now unemployed, had to stay behind in Ukraine because he can still be drafted into the Ukrainian military.
Lukash has connected on Facebook to Gary Coryell and his wife, who live on a hobby farm in northern La Crosse County.
The Lukashes are the second Ukrainian family to have sponsored Coryell. A mother and her daughter lived with them for about six weeks this summer before moving to Texas to work before Lukash and her son moved in with them in mid-October.
“Bringing these people into our home has given me a passion and purpose that I haven’t felt in many years,” Coryell said. “These people are in danger, especially the mothers and the children. Open your homes and your hearts and you will not regret it.”
Coryell has used the federal government’s United for Ukraine program, established in late April, as an opportunity for Ukrainian refugees to live under a sponsorship in the United States.
Sponsors help refugees fill out forms to show they are receiving some form of financial support. The federal government then carries out a background check on the refugees.
Coryell said they paid for plane tickets to bring Lukash and her son to the United States. They have also provided them with housing, food, clothing, transportation and help applying for government services such as food stamps. They also helped enroll their son in school.
Coryell said his family relied on friends to provide support.
It’s difficult to quantify how many residents of Ukraine have relocated to Wisconsin since February. The US State Department did not respond to a request from Wisconsin Public Radio for a count of the number of refugees sponsored to enter the state. According to a September CBS news report, Wisconsin was not among the top 10 destination states for Ukrainian refugees.
Refugees can be sponsored in a number of ways: privately, as Coryell’s family did, or through organizations known as Welcome Circles.
The La Crosse Welcome Circle, or LWC for short, brought its first two families from Ukraine to Wisconsin in early November.
LWC member Rabbi Brian Serle said there are similar programs supporting Ukrainian refugees in the Milwaukee, Madison, Eau Claire and Fox Valley areas. The aim of the organization is to help about a dozen Ukrainian families resettle.
Lukash has worked as a translator for most of her life. While she feels safe in rural Wisconsin, she said she won’t feel complete until she’s reunited with her husband. She said communication is now difficult due to power outages in Ukraine.
Lukash would love to find a way to start over in America, as war-torn Ukraine could take years to rebuild. The Biden administration has granted Ukrainian refugees a two-year residency in the US, but it remains to be seen whether more time will be granted.
“I want to become independent as soon as possible. It could be as a translator, or I want to work in human services to help other people,” Lukash said. “I love my country. I love my people, but everything works here. It’s different in many other places. I really appreciate what I got here.”