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Ohio native recounts arduous journey leaving Ukraine

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Posted at 6:45 PM, Apr 07, 2022

FREDERICKSBURG, Ohio — It was the hum of Russian aircrafts flying over their apartment that made Jeff and Yanna Oller realize it was time for them to leave their Kyiv apartment in search of safer space.

“We saw two MiG fighter planes in front of our window and that was when the realization came, this was real,” Jeff Oller, an Ohio native, said.

The Ohio native spent the last decade living in Ukraine, teaching English with his wife to Ukrainian students at a prominent academy. The two said they first learned of the war when they woke up to an onslaught of texts and voicemails asking about their safety.

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The view outside Jeff and Yanna Oller's apartment in Rusanivka, a neighborhood in Kyiv.

“It’s still shocking and I don't believe it,” Yanna Oller said. “We didn’t have time to think. It was crazy.”

What happened next in their journey, they said, felt like a series of quick decisions in a span of what felt like endless days.

“We just had to run,” Yanna Oller said.

“We know it as Day 1,” Jeff Oller said. “We don’t think about it as the date. Even on Day 42 where we are now, we don’t think about it as the actual date.”

Days turned into weeks, as Yanna Oller’s family helped her and her husband flee Ukraine into Moldova, and then the two made their way to Romania with the help of friends and friends of friends.

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Jeff and Yanna Oller at Yanna's family home. This photo was taken several years ago, but the two ended up staying here as part of their journey out of Ukraine and to the United States.

Jeff Oller’s parents live in Fredericksburg, just over the county line in Holmes County. While their home sits thousands of miles away from what was happening, their community played a key role in how the two made it to the United States.

As Jeff's parents describe it, Jeff and Yanna struggled to find a way to fly to the United States — that is until a family friend near Fredericksburg stepped in with money for plane tickets to Atlanta.

“It was just a series of what some would say are coincidences, but they were gifts given,” Jeff’s mother Margi Oller said. “[The family friend] knew how concerned we were and without a single thought, he said ‘just come and get the money and put it in the bank.’”

Jeff and Yanna initially stayed with Jeff’s parents in Fredericksburg but now reside in Tiffin, where Jeff grew up. Yanna grew up in Ukraine. The two still teach their students in Ukraine over ZOOM, but hope one day they’ll be able to return to where they fell in love.

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Jeff Oller teaching his students in Ukraine.

“We miss Ukraine and we pray for Ukraine,” Yanna Oller said. “We miss our jobs, we miss our friends and my family and we just hope it will end soon.”