Here. For Good. campaign benefiting Ukrainian refugees living in Valley

Nov. 24—SELINSGROVE — Nadiia Ovsova recalls hiding in a basement in a small village outside Odessa, Ukraine, huddled with blankets as her children cried and the Russian bombs exploded just a street away from them.

It was a dirt floor basement, described by Ovsova as "wet and dark and cold inside." Ovsova said they only had 90 seconds to three minutes to get into the safety of the basement before they would hear the bombs go off. They stocked the basement with pillows, blankets and food so they wouldn't have to waste precious time.

"It was cold, it was minus 8," she said. "It was scary. The kids are crying. They don't understand what's going on. They were shocked."

Ovsova, her husband Serhii Ovsov and their three children — 16-year-old David, 5-year-old Damyr and 4-year-old Tymur — fled Ukraine in May and have been in living in Selinsgrove since September. They are one of the families benefiting from the Salvation Army's 2022 "Here. For Good" campaign.

Uniting for Ukraine

The family has been able to travel and stay in America through the Uniting For Ukraine program. They are sponsored by Northumberland-based W&L Subaru general manager Andy and Sylvia Long.

President Joe Biden in April announced "a new streamlined process to provide Ukrainian citizens who have fled Russia's unprovoked war of aggression opportunities to come to the United States." It "provides a pathway for Ukrainian citizens and their immediate family members who are outside the United States to come to the United States and stay temporarily, with a period of parole up to two years. Ukrainians participating in Uniting for Ukraine must have a supporter in the United States who agrees to provide them with financial support for the duration of their stay in the United States," according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Mother says they 'did not believe it would happen'

The family lived in Odessa, a port city on the Black Sea in southern Ukraine. Before Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Ovsova owned and operated five food stores while her husband worked as a construction contractor. When the invasion started, the businesses were shut down due to it being too dangerous to bring in food for the store, said Ovsova.

"We did not believe it would happen," said Ovsova. "We considered the Russians our brothers. We were not prepared for it. We could not imagine."

Ovsova said she volunteered for a month at a local plant to distribute supplies and food to Ukrainian soldiers, citizens and refugees. It was during this time she connected with the Longs through Facebook when Ovsova put out a call for help to donate ingredients for bread. Sylvia Long, formerly of neighboring Romania, sent the supplies to her connections in her home country and it was taken into Ukraine, said Ovsova.

The Longs sent 17 tons of yeast, oil and flavor and monetary donations, said Ovsova.

The plant was bombed in March and Ovsova and her family fled from their city apartment to a nearby village where they owned property. When they heard the alarms and bombs, they would rush to get into the basement, said Ovsova.

Longs provide a way out

In May, the Longs offered shelter for the family in Bucharest, Romania. By September, all the necessary paperwork was filled out for the family to leave Romania and come to America. The Longs paid for the airline tickets to get here, and are providing them free housing, hygiene products and food, and a car, said Ovsova.

Andy Long said he and his wife have paid for eight families to escape Ukraine to different countries across Europe. Long said he visited Romania in August and crossed the border to help 25 to 30 refugees out of the country. But, he noted, they had a special bond with Ovsova and her family.

"This is something we believe in at our company," said Long. "We do a lot for local charities like Janet Weis Children's Hospital. This was bigger. It was the right thing to do for humanity. We thought it was the right thing to do for them."

Long said he and his wife have gotten close to the family.

"They had a life there, they had a business, they had properties, but that's worth nothing today," said Long. "They have fallen on hard times for sure, but they're here now and they're safe."

Ovsova said her young children ask every day whether they can return to their Ukrainian home. She doesn't know how long they'll be gone but said it may take up to five years to make sure the landmines are all accounted for.

"It's totally different (in America)," said Ovsova. "It's 180 degrees opposite. It's a different culture, a different mentality, different food. Everything is different but we like it here."

Despite the differences, Ovsova said she is thankful to the citizens and government of America for opening the program for families from Ukraine. Local residents brought fruits, vegetables, blankets, clothing, and toys, she said.

"USA citizens are very helpful and (have) good hearts," said Ovsova.

The owner of the apartment in Selinsgrove also brought them sweets and clothing, she said.

Life in Selinsgrove

Meanwhile, the children are all enrolled in the Selinsgrove Area School District. The younger ones don't understand much English, but the teenager knows some. Ovsova and Serhil are applying for work visas so they find employment.

In their free time, Ovsova said they have dinner with the Longs, go to playgrounds, enjoy the views on the Susquehanna River, fish and attend church. They also connected with another Ukrainian family who lives in the same apartment complex and who are also refugees. That connection lessens the feeling of being homesick, said Ovsova.

Grateful for the Salvation Army

They connected with the Salvation Army in Romania and appreciate the support they found, including baby items, clothing and other necessities. She said she is grateful for the Salvation Army in the Valley, too.

"Whatever you need, you can ask, and they will provide for you," she said. "It is a very big help."

Ovsova said the Salvation Army will be bringing the children gifts. The young ones like cars, construction and painting. The oldest is "addicted to his computer," she said.