CONWAY, Ark. – It has now officially been one full year since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
For millions it has been a year of conflict and uncertainty, the Associated Press reported thousands have died and millions have fled Ukraine to go to neighboring countries. For some refugees they found a safe haven in Arkansas.
For the Shevchenko family from Kryvyi Rih, a city in central Ukraine. The family says they still remember the day when their lives turned upside down. Hearing the sound of explosions, their anxiety and the fear in their children’s eyes.
Their lives took another turn when they became refugees traveling from Ukraine to Arkansas with the help of Conway’s Fellowship Bible Church.
Anatolii Shevchenko says he remembers the day when his country was invaded.
“I woke up because of the explosion very close by. About 30 seconds later we heard another massive explosion, and all of our windows were shaking,” Shevchenko said.
He says how panic came from everywhere.
“My phone started ringing. It was my mom, and she was screaming on the phone “this is the war,” Shevchenko said.
He goes on to say his wife Vita and two sons, 17-year-old Gleb and 13-year-old Kyrylo had to quickly scramble out of their apartment building with what they could carry.
“All they have their whole life in 3 little suitcases,” Shevchenko said.
Shevchenko says he has a disability in one of his legs which he has to use a cane for to walk, adding his fear was he would have to tell his family to go without him because he thought he would slow them down. However, he says his family refused to leave him and they drove to pick up his mom and then went to a village outside the city for a couple of weeks, but there was no comfort in their surroundings.
“We saw killed kids and parents and we were afraid that if we waited too long, we would be attacked,” Shevchenko said.
He says in March 2022 they took an evaluation route towards Lviv, which is in the western part of Ukraine, adding he drove 24 hours straight with no sleep because he wasn’t sure what would happen if they stopped. Shevchenko says when they made it to Lviv, they were told of Samaritan’s Purse, an aid group that could help them seek refuge in America.
“We had a family meeting and we put together 2 boys and we explained we don’t know the language so it will be very difficult,” Shevchenko said.
Shevchenko says he applied with the aid group in April 2022 and soon that got accepted they found out they would be getting help from Conway’s Fellowship Bible Church. He says by July 2022, they took a bus to cross into Poland and then a plane to Germany for a connecting flight to Houston to take their final flight to Arkansas. Which is where they met members of the church who rented them a house in Conway.
“As soon as we walked in our minds were blown away,” Shevchenko said.
His wife Vita says having a house for her family took a huge weight off their shoulders and they finally felt relief for the first time since the beginning of the war.
“I feel that there is a future, and it will be a good future, I know that everything will be good,” Mrs. Shevchenko said.
She adds that while in Ukraine she was an accountant, and her husband Anatolii was a business owner but leaving all of that behind because of the war, they are trying to do the best they can to support their family despite language barriers and cultural differences.
She says as a mother she is grateful her sons are back in school and learning.
Adding, she is not sure if or when Ukraine will be in their future, but they will always be proud Ukrainians.
“A year has passed but people are still united helping each other,” Mrs. Shevchenko said.
They both say they will continue to do everything they can to support their homeland and pray the war ends soon.