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Ukrainians adjust to US life, a year into war

Mariia Holovan now proudly calls Winterville, North Carolina home, but says she wants to return to Ukraine some day.
Ukraine refugees talk about life in the U.S.
Posted at 5:00 AM, Feb 20, 2023

WINTERVILLE, North Carolina — As President Joe Biden's made an unannounced visit to Ukraine marking one year since the start of Ukraine's war with Russia, it's a reminder of that day on February 24 last year, when Russia first attacked Ukraine.

Since then, the war has raged on — taking thousands of lives, costing billions of dollars and it has caused hundreds of thousands of refugees to flee to other countries worldwide.

One year after the start of the war, one Ukrainian who fled to the United States talks about how she is adjusting to life so far from home.

MEET MARIIA

When you first meet the Jones family in Winterville, North Carolina, they strike you as typical Americans from an outside perspective. Their home has a big yard where multiple dogs roam. It's a house that is active with growing children.

However, the Jones family is far from ordinary.

That's because of the extraordinary work they have done in the past year since Russia invaded Ukraine.

To be clear, their work does not involve tanks or missiles, but rather it involves helping — in this case, Mariia Holovan, 29.

Holovan fled Ukraine.

While she tried to stay in her native country, after months of ongoing power outages and threats of bombs, leaving in September made the most sense — even if it meant leaving her grandmother behind in Ternopil, Ukraine.

"She said if you have this opportunity, you need to try and create something for you because you are young; you need to be in a safe place," Holovan said.

"It is not safe to be in my country now," she said. "They have power probably three, four hours per day."

Since September, Holovan has become an honorary member of the Jones family. They sponsored her.

Holovan's story isn't that unique — although it is pretty distinctive in Winterville, North Carolina.

More than 200,000 Ukrainians have sought refuge in the United States since the start of the war, according to the White House.

We wanted to chat with Holovan to get her perspective — not just about life right now in Ukraine, but also to learn how life in the United States has been for Ukrainians who came here.

"To be here, alone, was hard for me," Holovan said.

She says that in the beginning, it was difficult.

Winterville isn't diverse like New York or Chicago, but after taking an English-speaking course locally, life has drastically improved. She's made friends and has a job at a local large retailer.

She just got her driver's license and her own apartment.

She is working to once again become a personal fitness trainer, her profession in Ukraine.

Holovan says the Jones family — and their assistance — has made all the difference.

"They are wonderful people," Holovan says.

HELPING UKRAINE

If you are reading this and want to help Ukrainians too, but don't know how, Jones was in the same position.

"At first, I didn't even know how to help," Jones said.

Jones says the process isn't easy or quick — and you don't get paid — but the nonprofit Welcome.US can help eligible Americans become a sponsor.

Jones says Holovan may be soaring now, but initially, she needed help.

"When I went for Medicaid, they denied her. So I had to print out the state and federal laws that say the people who came here under "United for Ukraine" are entitled to these benefits," Jones said.

"I can't fight, I don't have any tanks to give them. But I can take care of Mariia," Jones added.

HOLOVAN'S FUTURE

As for Holovan, while she is grateful to the Jones family and the people of Winterville, her goal is to one day return to Ukraine.

Books on her nightstand and images on her bedroom wall, serve as hope this war will one day end.

When asked if she worries if Russia will win the war, she said, "Never, they never will win."