The Sydorchuk family doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, but they know all about the spirit of the holiday.
The family of 11 exudes thankfulness: For their safety, for their family and to the American people.
They touched down in the U.S. for the first time on Nov. 1, having recently fled their small village. Trostyanka is about 3 miles from the Poland-Ukraine border. They now live with family in the Tri-Cities.
For months on end — through electrical blackouts and the distant sounds of sirens and shelling — the family and their church helped hundreds of refugees through the final leg of their journey by supplying beds, clothes and food.
But now they’re on the other end.
Having just left their home behind, the Sydorchuks are turning to the good will of relatives, nonprofits and the churches to start a new, temporary life in America.
“The Ukrainians are praying for the people in America and are really grateful for those who live in America for all the support that we are receiving from this country in Ukraine,” said Yurii Sydorchuk, 45, through the translating of Pastor Vasily Doroshchuk Jr.
The Russo-Ukrainian War has raged on for nearly nine months now, displacing nearly 14 million people. The U.S. has allocated billions in aid to the war-torn country in recent months — some of that is finding its way into communities like Trostyanka, where taxpayer-funded relief helped the Sydorchuk family aid Ukrainians fleeing for Poland.
“This is a blessed country because they’re always willing to help others,” Yurii Sydorchuk said with a smile.
Close to 400 Ukrainians have migrated to the Tri-Cities and Moses Lake area since the start of the war, said Ken Primus, director of World Relief Tri-Cities.
Doroshchuk Jr., pastor of House of Hope Church in Pasco, estimates there’s a Slavic population now of close to 10,000 in the Tri-Cities.
Time to go
The Sydorchuks didn’t consider leaving their small Western Ukraine village until the war arrived at their doorstep. They were the “last large family to leave.”
Ukraine was “blessed” before the start of the war, said Yurii Sydorchuk. Nearby border jobs were “plentiful,” prices were normal and life was stable.
“We lived in a village. My job was to install heating elements in homes. (My wife) Naddia was a full-time mom and was working with the children in the family, and we thank God we have nine beautiful children,” Yurii Sydorchuk said. “It was peaceful. We lived in our own home, we had our own job and the children went to school. ... After the war, things changed.”
As Russian President Vladimir Putin launched an all-out invasion of the country in February, many fled cities and homes. The Sydorchuks started seeing more people travel through their small village, which is just off a major international highway.
Life for most was upended after the invasion.
Naddia Sydorchuk, 41, said they lived in a “beautiful,” red-brick, three-bedroom home and were in the process of adding on a second story. The Christian Church of Trostyanka was the centerpiece of the village of 300 and later served as housing for refugees and the wounded.
A handyman and minister, Yurii Sydorchuk installed a shower in the church’s bathroom for refugees who would sleep in the basement.
Trostyanka was a place of hope.
On Oct. 24, the Sydorchuk family and church members celebrated Harvest Day, based on the Old Testament tradition. They took that Sunday to rest and prepare large fruit and vegetable displays, cook chicken and meats, prepare salads and other meals to mark the holiday season.
But, as the war went on, people’s attitudes changed and so did the family’s role.
Airstrikes and the sounds of low-flying airplanes became more common. School was canceled more often. Electricity was being rationed to keep from crippling the nation’s energy supply. People from neighboring villages also eventually started asking for clothes and food.
One of their children also had a close encounter with a shell fired from nearby Belarus.
And also, rather suddenly, refugees stopped appearing at their church doorsteps.
“One of the last reasons (we left) was that the refugees quit coming to our region because our region was becoming too unsafe, so the ministry was closing,” Yurii Sydorchuk said.
“We understood that the life of our children was more important than anything physical we have,” Nadiaa Sydorchuk said.
So they headed for the border, leaving their home behind in the hands of a family member. One daughter, age 18, stayed behind with her new husband.
A new life
“We didn’t even plan to come to the U.S., but many of our friends and colleagues were saying, ‘You have many children, what are you waiting for? The areas in Lutsk and Kovel are being bombed... the rockets are flying. You’re not being safe here,’” Yurii Sydorchuk recalled.
Naddia Sydorchuk’s siblings live in the Tri-Cities area and in Idaho. The decision was made in just a few days, with their relatives sponsoring them to resettle in America. They flew out of the Warsaw Chipin Airport and arrived at SeaTac.
Now in the Tri-Cities, the family enjoys trips to Columbia Park and spending time together. They’re looking forward to celebrating Christmas and New Year’s. Their kids are enrolled in Pasco’s dual language program, and are on track to being fluent in both English and Ukrainian.
Naddia and Yurii say they hope to one day return home. How soon, though?
“When Ukraine will be free and the war will end. That might be the deciding factor,” Yurii Sydorchuk said.
Primus said the family’s bravery is something he sees quite frequently at World Relief Tri-Cities.
“We have dozens and dozens and dozens of families who come through here all the time,” he said. “It’s one of the blessings of this job that you hear, week in and week out.”
Because the the family didn’t come to the U.S. through the Lautenberg Amendment, World Relief Tri-Cities’ primary family reunification program, Primus said there’s little financial assistance they can offer the family aside for some Social Security programs and work training.
Over 90% of work-ready refugees are employed after about four months of resettlement, Primus said.
“We are very grateful to have a program such as World Relief. It’s such a big help to Ukrainians who are arriving,” said Naddia Sydorchuk. She added later: “It is always better to help somebody than to be in need of help.”
The Sydorchuks are in need of warm clothes for their kids this winter. They’re also looking for bedding, kitchen supplies, appliances and furniture as they await approval on their own apartment.
They’re also looking for a van to drive around their large family. They’re working to get their drivers permits and work authorization forms, too.
Yurii Sydorchuk says he’s chomping at the bit to get back to work.
“I’ve never spent that much time with my family before. Children are very happy to have their daddy home,” he says with a grin.
How you can help
World Relief Tri-Cities is currently accepting donations of pots and pans, cookware, utensils, towels, bed linens, lamps and gift cards that will benefit refugees relocating to the Tri-Cities.
Financial and vehicle donations are also being accepted.
Tri-City residents can also volunteer their time as an employment coach, good neighbor mentor or English language tutor.