Ukrainian family in Alaska reflects on World Refugee Day

Ukrainian family in Alaska reflects on World Refugee Day
Published: Jun. 20, 2023 at 8:59 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - June 20 is World Refugee Day, designated by the United Nations as a day to honor refugees around the world who have been forced to flee their home countries but have persevered through unforeseen hardships. It celebrates the strength and courage of refugees everywhere and recognizes the resilience of those rebuilding their lives.

The theme for World Refugee Day this year is “Hope Away From Home,” and a Ukrainian refugee family that lives in Alaska now has done just that.

Kateryna Yakymets and her family came to Alaska in December 2022, bringing her mother Ludmilla, son Nazar, and daughters Marina and Nastia.

Previously in Ukraine, her family lived in a house on the edge of the war, where the fighting was at its worst.

She believes it’s a miracle for her family to be in Alaska.

“We saw tanks driving by,” she recalled. “We saw the military machines driving by and we were really scared.”

Yakymets said she wanted to protect their children and ensure a better future for them.

“We did not know when the rockets could strike. We saw on the news that rockets were hitting other homes and we were scared that it could happen to us as well,” Yakymets said. “We left our home, we left our friends, we left everything behind.”

They searched for a sponsor and found a family in Alaska that wanted to help them. The family welcomed them when they arrived in Anchorage in December.

The Yakymets family is just part of the more than 108 million people who were forcibly displaced from their homes in 2022.

All of them are a key reason why World Refugee Day is recognized globally.

“As we celebrate World Refugee Day, I believe we bring awareness and we speak on a problem that truly matters and that all of us can take part in doing something good in helping somebody,” said Valeriya Makhonina, who works with the New Chance Inc. Ukraine Relief Program.

Makhonina said she believes it’s also a reminder to be sympathetic to individuals who are coming from a place of hardship.

“Some saw bombings, some were driving on the trains and saw rockets flying by, and when I hear those stories, I understand that we have a wonderful community that just came together in Alaska,” Makhonina said. “I’m just so happy that we can celebrate this World Refugee Day and to stand together and say that we’re here for them.”

As Kateryna reflects on her family’s experience coming to America, she is thankful and provided some advice to other refugees who might still be in unsafe places.

“They provided us with a new family, new friends,” Yakymets said. “They provided us mostly to safety, and you can be assured that there is a place for you where you can be safe and taken care of, where you can become a part of community.”