WESTFIELD, Mass. — When the shelling started, they hid in the basement.
Ivan Yemelyanov, 36; Liudmyla Yemelianova, known as Myla, 38 years old; and their four young children fled their home near kyiv, Ukraine nearly two months ago after Russia invaded their country.
From their new home in the Boston suburb of Westfield, the couple looked back on their long journey from Eastern Europe to the United States, where they landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport on April 6. They spoke in Ukrainian and Russian through an interpreter.
“When the war started, we heard explosions, when the shelling happened. And we had to go to the basement,” said Myla Yemelianova. “At first they [the children] didn’t understand what we were doing there, were a little scared. It was, of course, scary. We had to hide. And when we come here, of course, we feel calm, safe.
Parents and their children — Viktor Filimonov, 11; Milana, 6 years old; Anna, 2 years old; and Veronika, 9 months — are among a dozen Ukrainians who were resettled in the United States in March under the federal refugee program. Another 704 Ukrainian refugees have been resettled in the United States since October under a separate State Department program.
In addition, thousands of Ukrainians flocked to the US-Mexico border seeking asylum.
Ivan Yemelianov was a user experience designer at Kyivstar, one of the largest telecommunications companies in the Ukrainian capital. Myla Yemelianova was a technical engineer in an aircraft factory before Anna and Veronika were born.
The family spent around two weeks traveling around 700 miles from kyiv to Vinnytsya and then to Chernivtsi in western Ukraine before traveling to Suceava and Bucharest in Romania. They stayed there for about a month before flying to the United States.
“Even after the war started, we couldn’t imagine it had started. There was a feeling that it couldn’t be,” said Ivan Yemelianov. “The first two weeks, maybe longer, we couldn’t react normally to sudden noises.”
The Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, a nonprofit faith-based organization that works exclusively with refugees, asylum seekers and other vulnerable populations, helped the family settle and acclimate to his new home.
The organization is one of nine resettlement agencies in the United States that take over after a family or individual has been granted official refugee status by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.
“We will work to finalize their trip. We will meet them at the airport. We will usually try to find affordable housing for them before they have even arrived,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, CEO and Chairman of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.
She said her agency provides the refugees with “the infrastructure, so that as they settle in – those first days, those first weeks – we can be that anchor. We can be that community resource.
The resettlement process is long and can take more than five years, O’Mara Vignarajah said.
“It’s quite paper heavy. It requires a number of interviews,” she said. “And then, of course, it’s the emotional toll of the anxiety of the long waits, where you can hear nothing at all.”
The process for the family began in 2017, when their first application for refugee status was submitted to the US government by Myla Yemelianova’s mother. Their hope was to find the children’s grandparents, an aunt and a cousin, who were already living in the United States. The following year, they were invited to their first interview, Myla Yemelianova said.
They were supposed to fly to the United States earlier this year, she said, but her husband and one of their daughters tested positive for Covid-19 so they had to self-quarantine. . It was during their quarantine that Russia invaded Ukraine and their home country was plunged into war.
Their eldest son, Viktor, said when the bombs started falling he was worried about his three sisters.
“I was afraid they would blow up the house,” said Viktor, who added that he wanted to stay in the United States long term, enroll in school and go to college one day.
After finally being able to hug her loved ones in the United States, Myla Yemelianova said: “I wanted to cry with happiness that we finally saw each other. Because it took us a long time to be here, to be here together.