'It's a fairy tale': Family fleeing war-torn Ukraine finds temporary refuge in Marin County

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ByLiz Kreutz KGO logo
Thursday, June 8, 2023
Family fleeing war-torn Ukraine finds refuge in Bay Area
A family fleeing war-torn Ukraine found a temporary refuge with a couple in Marin County, and they say their first week in the U.S. has been a dream.

SAN ANSELMO, Calif. (KGO) -- It's been just six days since the Kucherenko family touched down at San Francisco International. It's their first time ever in the U.S. and a smiling group of women waving Ukrainian and American flags were there to greet them

Nadiia, her husband Ruslan and their two children, 15-year-old Hlib and 9-year-old Melaniia, have just fled their war torn home in Kharkiv, Ukraine -- a city that's been devastated over the last year by Russian air strikes.

"It's very dangerous for kids to stay here," Nadiia told ABC7 News. "A lot of bombs, a lot of bad things happen in Ukraine right now, especially in Kharkiv."

And that is why they made the difficult decision to leave behind everything they know and embark on a 6,000 mile journey -- taking trains and planes -- to a place they'd never been, to live with people they've never met.

"Ever since the war started I was seeking a way to sponsor a family, and now we are sponsoring a family," Alison Smith, who is hosting the Kucherenkos at her home in the Sleepy Hollow neighborhood of San Anselmo in Marin County, told ABC7 News.

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Alison and her husband Jan are doing this as part of "United for Ukraine." It's a federal program that allows U.S. families to temporarily host Ukrainian refugees.

It's through that program, and a site called "Welcome Connect," that the Smiths were connected with the Kucherenko family.

"You read their stories and each one is more heartbreaking than the one before it," Alison said. "But this particular family really spoke to me."

Nadiia, who held back tears while talking about their decision to leave their home country, said their first week in America has been a dream.

"It's much better than I even imagined," she said." First expression is, wow is it true? Maybe I am sleeping, maybe I am dreaming, it's not true. It's a fairy tale."

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Alison said she and two friends, Kit and Laura, have formed a support network to help the Kucherenkos make the transition into their new life. That includes helping them find a car, get a social security number, and get their kids enrolled in school.

A GoFundMe to help the family has already raised more than $15,000.

"Everyone is so excited to have them here. Bringing food, giving them memberships to the community pool, or camps," Alison said. "So, it's been a wonderful experience of community coming together."

The Kucherenkos -- who on their day in the U.S. helped raise a Ukrainian American flag that now flies outside their new home -- know they are among the lucky ones. There are still millions of refugees seeking safety.

"I just really really would love to see more people sponsor Ukrainians," Smith said. "I think there are a lot of people in this country who have room in their hearts and in their houses."

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