In May, Zion’s church council approved the creation of a Ukrainian Refugee Working Group to investigate the opportunities and possibilities of sponsoring a Ukrainian refugee family in Buffalo. The group is researching and learning about the different opportunities offered by Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service and Arrive Ministries, and investigating sponsorship with other area churches, and will make a recommendation to the council on the best path forward.
In the midst of that work, several in the group learned of the Bushkin and Dzhelali families who fled Ukraine and are living with relatives in Montrose. Some in the group decided they wanted to help as individuals and began doing so because the needs are great for this family.
So, we have two things going on in support of refugee families:
- Helping with the immediate needs of the family who is already here.
- Exploring more long-term opportunities in sponsoring an individual or family.
In May, Gary Leff initiated a discussion among men in a Bible study group regarding possibly looking into sponsoring a family from Ukraine. This discussion helped lead to the development of the refugee working group which is looking into possible sponsorship of a refugee family. This also started Kevin and Judy Bergquist thinking about what they could do individually to help. After reading a news story in The Drummer about a family already in our community and desperate for help, the Bergquists and the Leffs jumped into action and met with the Bushkin and Dzhelali families. They are all from Mariupol and had to leave because everything they owned was destroyed in the war. After a grueling and frightening month-long trip through several countries, they made it to Montrose to live with a relative. They are working through the Minnesota Council of Churches to get help with work permits and documentation. As this newsletter went to print, their greatest need was a vehicle, and volunteer drivers to get them to appointments.
Mariupol to Montrose (In Their Own Words)
The life of each of us was divided into “before” and “after” February 24, 2022. This morning we woke up from a terrible explosion. At first we thought that it seemed .. but then the second followed, the third .. The first thing that came to mind was to call our family and friends and find out who has any information about what is going on. The most terrible thing was confirmed – this is a war. Inside in our hearts all emotions and feelings were in horror. Until the last moment, we were sure that there would be no war. Nobody from my environment stockpiled water, food, medicines and gasoline. No one was packing a “emergency suitcase” like in 2014, because no one believed that this was possible in the 21st century. A few hours later, when the feeling of panic and denial of what was happening subsided a little, it was decided that the whole family would gather in one place and find a safe place in case of a bombing. From our family at that moment only women and children remained in Mariupol: my aunt is 80 years old, I (Natella), my niece Alina with children (Miroslava 8 years old and Matvey 1.5 years old), my daughter Katya. Alina’s husband is a seaman. He was at sea. Katya’s husband, an employee of the OSCE mission in Ukraine, was on rotation in Donetsk a week before the start of the war. Three days remained before the return of his group from a business trip to Mariupol. He could not return to the territory controlled by Ukraine. He was evacuated with other members of the mission. But that’s a completely different story.
On the third day of the war, it was already dangerous to stay in the apartment. We arrived at our bomb shelter with minimal food, a small supply of water, medicines and documents. Of clothing we only had what was on our backs. Everyone was sure that it would not be for long, that there would be an opportunity to return home and take everything you need. But how wrong we were. On the 5th day of the war, mobile communications and the Internet disappeared. Power went out on the 6th day. We were isolated, no information was given to us. Gas and heat were not available. The frost hit and snow fell. The room was +10 C. I had to stretch the food, although due to stress I didn’t really want to eat. Water had to be conserved. We also collected snow and melted it. The shelling became more frequent and intense every day. After a week of staying in this shelter, about 100 people were gathered there. We had many children with us. The smallest were our Matvey and a 3-day-old baby. They cried all the time, because food suitable for Matvey was almost depleted. 3-day old baby was named Christina. And Christina’s mother had little milk. Stocks were quickly running out. Food was then brought to us by ZSU, volunteers and the Azov regiment. Food was cooked on fires, water was also boiled .. While the food was being prepared, shells flew overhead. We have learned to distinguish between arrivals and departures .. shells fly towards us or through us. But the worst thing is the sound of a flying plane, and then exploding bombs. The most terrible moments were when two cars that exploded next to ours (the front door of the driver was driven from the shock wave). A few days later, a shell flew into the office courtyard, close to our shelter. One car was pierced through, the rear side glass of our car was knocked out with fragments and the interior lining was damaged. The windows of the building were shattered. The fragments were so small that they resembled snow. And I will never forget the whistle of a bomb falling on our building .. we fell to the floor, covering the children with ourselves. But the bomb that fell nearby did not explode. lives were spared.
In mid-March, we received information that there was an opportunity to leave the city, and a humanitarian corridor had been opened. We left at our own risk on the morning of March 16th. By this time, almost nothing remained of the city. Destroyed houses, broken roads, broken wires, dead people, graves in the yards .. This whole nightmare is beyond words. We tried not to even look around. We drove almost 12 hours to Berdyansk (90 km) due to the huge number of cars, destroyed roads, broken bridges and I had to go around many cars on country roads. We spent the night there and left for Zaporozhye. We also traveled to this city for 12 hours. Before the village of Vasilyevka, we counted 15 checkpoints of the invaders. These were Russians, Chechens, and the DPR military.
At one of the checkpoints, we were forced to peel off the tin film from the windows of the car with our nails, threatening to break the windows with the butt of a machine gun, because according to the laws of Russia, tinting car windows is prohibited. We were released because we could not remove it. But they warned that we had to drive past each checkpoint with open windows so that we would not be shot, because it was not clear who was sitting in the car, although there was a sign CHILDREN on the glass. There was the first Ukrainian checkpoint behind the village of Vasilyevka. We began to drive up to him, and shells flew from behind. The shelling of the civilian population began right on the highway. Clouds of black smoke hitting cars with people in front of us. They were killed and wounded. Ambulances and soldiers run to their aid. I had to go around burned-out cars, broken military equipment, unexploded shells that were sticking out of the asphalt. This section of the road was just awful. We screamed and cried and prayed…
Two more days we were driving to the Moldovan border. Our car was broke down when was 200 km left to Moldovan border . We had to leave the car at a gas station.
In Moldova we were met by volunteers. We went to Romania. From there we went to our Ukrainian friends to Italy. We stayed with them for 2 weeks, and there we learned about the possibility of crossing the border using a humanitarian password through Mexico. It was very frightening to fly, but there was nowhere to return. Thanks to our sponsors, we flew from Italy to Mexico City and from there to Tijuana. Then we crossed the border into San Diego, California.