Virginian man takes in Ukrainian family

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Posted at 3:21 PM, Jun 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-25 15:21:47-04

DANVILLE, Va. (AP) — Before the Russian invasion in late February, Volodymyr and Olha Volyk and their young daughter had their own apartment in their native Ukraine.

Volodymyr was set to begin a new job as an international truck driver March 1 and Olha, his wife, was working in retail.

"Before the war, it was a normal, quiet life," Volodymyr, 32, told the Danville Register & Bee through the family's host, Michael McNeely. "We had a quiet life with plans and dreams."

The Volyks have been living with McNeely since they arrived in Danville from Ukraine on June 4.

McNeely has taken in the family as a host under the Uniting for Ukraine program run by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The program was announced April 22 as a step toward President Joe Biden's effort to welcome Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion.

"Uniting for Ukraine provides a pathway for Ukrainian citizens and their immediate family members who are outside the United States to come to the United States and stay temporarily for a two-year parole," according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.

It was McNeely's fascination with Eastern Europe that led him to take in the Volyks.

"I decided to host a family because I have had a long interest in Eastern European politics and culture," said McNeely, who studied Russian for his bachelor's degree from the University of Richmond. "I've been kind of oriented towards that area of the world for most of my life."

When the war started Feb. 24, McNeely was fixated on the news and he wanted to help.

"It really isn't my skill set to go over there and join the military, but when this program was created, it was an opportunity for me to do something that I felt was constructive and helpful," McNeely said.

The Volyks chose to come to the U.S. because they felt it was a strong secure, and safe democratic country, Volodymyr said through McNeely.

"This is not a dangerous country," said Olha, 25.

There was not a lot of opportunity in Ukraine, even before the war, Volodymyr said.

As for the Dan River Region, the Volyks have fallen in love with Danville and Pittsylvania County. The area has beautiful scenery and friendly people, Volodymyr said.

"We're trying to get used to it and to live up to your example of being nice to each other," he said.

The Volyks, who can stay for up to two years under the Uniting for Ukraine program, would like to remain in the U.S.

"Ultimately, their goal is to immigrate and become permanent residents," McNeely said.

Volodymyr added, "If this is possible, we would stay in this beautiful country."

The Volyks would live in the Danville/Pittsylvania County area, he said.

In the meantime, Volodymyr has submitted a form to get his authorization to work in the U.S. He plans to earn a commercial drivers license.

"He's looking to get that testing done here," McNeely said.

He's also taking English classes at the Adult Learning Center in Danville.

Olha, who earned a degree in chemical engineering and oil-and-gas refining in Ukraine, will look after their 22-month-old daughter, Sofiia.

For McNeely, the process for hosting a family included finding a matching family for his sponsorship and filling out a sponsorship application. The family to be hosted provides the host with their information and the government looks at the sponsor's financial data to make sure they can provide a place to stay for the family.

Once the sponsorship is approved, the family confirms their identity and seeks a travel authorization to come to the U.S.

McNeely, who met the Volyks through a Facebook group, said the process for sponsorship took only three days to complete.

The Volyks also had to be tested for tuberculosis before coming to the U.S.

Volodymyr, who grew up in Vinnytsia, and Olha, who is originally from Monastyr Leshyanskie, came to Danville from Vinnytsia.

His hometown has a population of about 300,000, similar in numbers to Greensboro, North Carolina. The city has a factory that produces Russian candies and another that makes electronics for Volkswagens.

A factory was also being built in Vinnytsia for making ski equipment for the European market. The city's newly remodeled airport was bombed by the Russians the first day of the war.

Monastyr Leshyanskie is much smaller.

"It's a really small village," Olha said.

"It's more like a bedroom community, like a sleepy village," McNeely said.

The community's residents work in other places, he said.

The Volyks keep in touch with their families, but the couple's relatives have no plans to emigrate to the U.S.

"Their parents are happy they (the Volyks) are safe," McNeely said. "But they themselves don't want to leave."

However, a sister of Volodymyr's has left Ukraine and relocated to the United Kingdom.

Vinnytsia has been the target of attacks since the Russian invasion, including rocket strikes against the Havryshivka Vinnytsia International Airport on March 6; rocket fire that hit a television station March 16; and a March 25 airstrike against the Ukrainian Air Force command center, according to news reports.

Vinnytsia has been more or less a safe place, McNeely said, translating for Volodymyr, "but the fear for the life of the family and daughter forced them to leave the country."

There is also concern among Ukrainians, Volodymyr said, that separatists and Russians in part of neighboring Moldova could invade from there as well.

McNeely said he is still receiving messages in his Facebook group from people seeking help. Other residents in the Dan River Region looking to host a family can contact him.