By Scott Goodson, Bronxville Resident
Sept. 21, 2022: Last winter, I wrote in this newspaper about Yulia and her two sons, Ukrainian evacuees who were coming to stay in Bronxville with my family and me. Ukrainians who chose to leave when the Russians bombed their village—after one narrowly missed their home—carried only one small suitcase stuffed with iPads, chargers, underwear, and winter clothes. To reach the Slovakian border from Kyiv, Yulia had to drive her car in the wrong side of the highway to avoid massive traffic jams. She parked many miles from the border, left her private car on the side of the road, and walked across in the freezing night weather.
When Karin, Jacoby, Ellis and I heard that there was an opportunity to help, to provide assistance where there was none, we gathered together and agreed that we had to do something. I suppose putting yourself in their shoes was an important motivation.
We first met in April. We listened to their story. The psychological crush of being invaded and actually bombed in your home as your children sit around the kitchen table is hard to imagine and even harder to forget. It was evident in their eyes, in the sudden twitches whenever helicopters flew nearby. They are from a village not that different from Bronxville, in the suburbs of Kyiv.
Fast forward to September, and Bronxville has been a positive experience for this family. The Bronxville residents have been supportive. The lush green pastoral lawns have been restorative. But the pain of losing everything is real and will never disappear. One day Yulia, Vera (our dog), and I went for a walk around the village. As we made our way down Summit Avenue, we started talking about all that she had accomplished since she had arrived. We talked about the need to "eat the elephant" of challenges she faced, one bite at a time. We talked about her future. She closed her eyes, took a long breath, gathered herself, and began to cry: "It's been so hard," she said.
They are and have been incredibly resilient in so many ways. The boys, for example, entertained us on Summit Avenue with their enchanting piano recitals, usually in the evenings after a few hours of study with their teacher from Ukraine over Zoom. Max, the eldest 14 year old, played a Queen song, and Karin, my wife, jumped in and sang along. What a performance that was. They attended Ellis' track meets, cheering him on on the sidelines. In July, the boys studied English to prepare themselves for the academic year ahead. Young Nikita speaks four languages and attended the Elysee Francis in Kyiv before the war, while Max, who is passionate about physics, designs his own rocket systems. Language and physics come naturally to them, and I learned a lot from Max about Einstein, his idol and someone he wishes to emulate when one day he is accepted to MIT.
Over the summer, Yulia focused on all the essentials that had to get done. That there is a massive bureaucratic knot that needs to be untangled for anyone in her position is probably not a surprise to you. After many many months and legal consultations, the boys received their visas and Yulia received her visa. Now, eight months after arriving in the USA, she has official permission to work. But, she is not able to open a bank account or hold a credit card. "No one said being an evacuee would be easy," I remind her with a smile while reminding her of her strength and determination. "What else am I supposed to do," she tells me with a tilt of her chin. "I just keep going."
We managed to arrange for the boys to attend Cardigan Mountain School, the iconic boarding school in New Hampshire, thanks to the deeply engaged headmaster, wonderful school board, extraordinary teachers, and support of the whole school, the alumni, students, and their families.
With the boys safe and secure, Yulia is driven to learn how to design, start and run a foundation while she attends night classes at Columbia University Graduate School. When her youngest son, Martin, died from cancer before the war, she committed her life to this personal goal. With a work visa in hand, she now seeks employment in an organization where she can earn money to become independent and, moreover, learn how to achieve her goal.
To the Bronxville community, you can help. Ideas are welcome, employment positions for Yulia more so. Yulia doesn't need more clothes, but financial contributions for Yulia and the boys are greatly appreciated. Please go to our GoFundMe page, which is still taking these. The link is here. https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-ukrainian-evacuee-family-in-westchester