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On April 22, 2022, Nataliia Voloshyna lifts a tray of uncooked varenyky, traditional Ukrainian dumplings, she and other volunteers made at Streecha, a Ukrainian restaurant in Little Ukraine, downtown Manhattan, New York City.

Nataliia Voloshyna fled her home country of Ukraine due to the Russian invasion and found refuge in Yonkers, New York. She is one of millions of Ukrainians whose lives have been impacted by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Story of a Ukrainian Refugee in New York

Story, Photos and Web Project by Jimin Kim
June 12, 2022

On March 10, 2022, Nataliia Voloshyna came to the United States from Dnipro, Ukraine to flee the Russian invasion of Ukraine. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, as of June 9, approximately 7.4 million Ukrainian refugees have left Ukraine as a result of the Russian invasion. According to the United Nation’s International Organization for Migration, at the beginning of May, nearly 8 million Ukrainians have been displaced inside Ukraine. Nataliia is one of millions of Ukrainian refugees whose lives have been changed by the war in Ukraine.

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On April 21, 2022, Olga Kovalenko, left, Nataliia Voloshyna, center, and Dmytro Kovalenko, right, pose for a portrait at Streecha, a Ukrainian restaurant in Little Ukraine, downtown Manhattan, New York City.

After arriving to the U.S., Nataliia, 64, moved into the home of her daughter, Olga Kovalenko, 37, and Olga’s husband, Dmytro Kovalenko, 41, in Yonkers, New York. Yonkers is a city located just north of the Bronx borough of New York City.

Before coming to the U.S., Nataliia suffered her first minor heart attack in Dnipro on Feb. 21, three days before the Russian invasion. Nataliia’s son and Olga’s older brother, Mykola Voloshyn, 40, brought Nataliia straight to the hospital after Nataliia‘s heart attack. She left the hospital in early March.

On Feb. 22, 2022, Mykola Voloshyn, right, poses for a photo with his mother, Nataliia Voloshyna, at a hospital in Dnipro, Ukraine. On Feb. 21, 2022, Nataliia suffered a minor heart attack and Mykola brought her to the hospital that day.

Lida Leshchuk, a Ukrainian American
and Nataliia’s friend, translated for Nataliia
during Nataliia's interview. On April 22,
they spoke at a table in
Streecha, a
Ukrainian restaurant in Little Ukraine,
downtown Manhattan, New York City.
Streecha is owned by 

St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church
down the street from the restaurant.
All of the proceeds from Streecha go to the
church and Streecha’s staff are volunteers.

Nataliia said when the war started, there were air-sirens going off constantly in all of the cities in Ukraine including Dnipro because it was unclear where the bombs would hit or where the bombs were coming from. Nataliia lived in her own apartment in Dnipro. Her husband passed away years ago. She has two children, Mykola and Olga.

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On April. 22, 2022, Nataliia Voloshyna, left, cleans the table after preparing varenyky with other volunteers at Streecha. Lida Leshchuk, right, also prepared varenyky and translated for Nataliia during the interview.

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On April. 21, 2022, a man exits Streecha, a Ukrainian restaurant in Little Ukraine, downtown Manhattan, New York City. The restaurant is located in a basement below a chiropractor's office.

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On April. 21, 2022, pedestrians walk in front of St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church in Little Ukraine, downtown Manhattan, New York City. Streecha is a Ukrainian restaurant down the street that has been a fundraising arm of the church since the restaurant was formed. 

In-person Audio Interview - 4-22-22 - Nataliia Voloshyna
00:00 / 03:46

On April. 22, 2022, Nataliia Voloshyna gives an interview at Streecha. Lida Leshchuk translates in English for Nataliia who is speaking Ukrainian.

“A lot of danger was in the air,” said Nataliia, describing her experience in Dnipro when the Russian invasion started. “The fact that nobody knew exactly where the missiles would land, that made you feel very scared. There was the bombing in the beginning of the war. A lot of ruination.”

In early March, Olga and Mykola decided it would be safer for Nataliia to leave Ukraine. So, Nataliia left Dnipro. Dnipro is located in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, a region next to the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine where some of the heaviest fighting has been taking place in the war. According to video footage from Mykola, Mykola took Nataliia to the train station in Dnipro in early March.

Video footage taken by Mykola Voloshyn in early March shows the train station in Dnipro, Ukraine the day he brought his mother, Nataliia Voloshyna to the station. Nataliia took the train from the station and went to Lviv, Ukraine to escape from the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Mykola had to stay in Ukraine. Since the Russian invasion, the Ukrainian government has mandated all Ukrainian men who are between the ages of 18 and 60 to stay in Ukraine and fight if needed, with few exceptions. Mykola is a volunteer in Dnipro delivering supplies to the armed forces on the frontline in the city.

Furthermore, Nataliia took the train from Dnipro to Lviv, a city in western Ukraine near Poland. Nataliia said she saw explosions in two places on the way to Lviv. She said there were people evacuating from Zaporizhia, Kharkiv, Kyiv and many other Ukrainian cities. She said it was one huge evacuation line going to Lviv.

“It was intimidating, frightening to see all the women and the children because that was basically who was in the evacuation lines,” said Nataliia. “Everybody was crying and you’re going into the unknown, leaving your husbands, leaving the male members of the family, the dads, the husbands and going into the unknown.”

But, she said the passage to Lviv was relatively safe. She added that she made the right choice coming to the U.S.

In the evening of March 10, 2022, Nataliia Voloshyna, left, takes a photo with her daughter, Olga Kovalenko, at Olga's home in Yonkers, New York. Earlier that night, Olga picked her mother up from Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey. Nataliia arrived to the U.S. from Warsaw, Poland after leaving Ukraine to escape from the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“It’s good that those that left, they left because the ones that are left, like for example, Mariupol, they are stuck,” said Nataliia. “There is a huge hostage, humanitarian crisis there."

From Lviv, civilian volunteers drove Nataliia to Warsaw, Poland. According to travel documents from Nataliia, Nataliia took a plane from Warsaw on March 10 and arrived in New Jersey the same day. Olga drove to Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, New Jersey to pick her mother up.

“I’m glad,” said Olga. “The moment she arrived, the moment I saw her in the airport, I felt a big relief. I just was so happy that she is next to me. I’m OK for her to stay as long as she wants.”

Phone Interview - 4-26-22 - Olga Kovalenko
00:00 / 03:30

On April. 26, 2022, Olga Kovalenko gives a phone interview.

In the morning of April 22, Nataliia helped to make varenyky, traditional Ukrainian dumplings, at Streecha. Dmytro volunteers as a cook at the restaurant. Once a week, usually on Saturday mornings, local volunteers help prepare Streecha’s supply of varenyky for the following week.

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On April 22, 2022, Nataliia Voloshyna, center, and other volunteers help prepare varenyky, traditional Ukrainian dumplings, at Streecha.

At home in Yonkers, Nataliia sows Ukrainian flags which Streecha sells for donations sent to Ukraine. Olga said her mother has been able to make some friends in New York City due to the large Ukrainian community there. New York City is home to more than 150,000 Ukrainians, the largest single Ukrainian population in the U.S.

Nataliia Voloshyna, right, at the home of Dmytro and Olga Kovalenko in Yonkers, New York, stitches a Ukrainian flag which Streecha sells for donations to Ukraine at the restaurant.

On April 21, 2022, a Ukrainian flag is displayed at Streecha. Streecha sells the flag and sends the proceeds as donations to Ukraine. Nataliia Voloshyna hand-stitches the flags at the home of Dmytro and Olga Kovalenko in Yonkers, New York.

“I think it might have been helpful for her just to talk to other people and to hear their thoughts, their ideas, what they think how to proceed with this situation,” said Olga about Nataliia finding company with the Ukrainian folks in New York City. “That’s why actually she likes to go to Streecha, to help make varenyky every Sat. to talk to people.”

Nataliia visited the U.S. six times before the Russian invasion on Feb. 24 to see her daughter and son-in-law. Due to her visits, she has grown accustomed to American culture. So, Nataliia said adjusting to American society hasn’t been too difficult.

Dmytro and Olga came to the U.S. in Nov. 2014. They lived in Dnipro in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea and the conflict in the Donbas began. Olga said back then, she and her husband worked as civilian volunteers supplying food and clothing for the Ukrainian military. She had a Ukrainian flag on her car. She said she later found her car with the windows broken. Olga said she and Dmytro weren’t in the car when it was vandalized.

Additionally, Olga said a group of people attacked Dmytro one evening as Dmytro came home from work. Olga said the attackers called Dmytro by his name. She said the attackers could have been either Russians or Russian allies. Dmytro and Olga were never able to identify the assailants nor figure out how the attackers found out about them. After these incidents, the couple decided it would be safer to come to the U.S.

“We just had to leave,” said Olga. “We just packed two suitcases and we just left Ukraine because we were very afraid of what’s going to happen next.”

Through a U.S. tourist visa the couple acquired in 2011 when they visited the country, they came to the U.S. in Nov. 2014. After arriving, they applied for asylum. Their application for asylum has been pending since. The couple got their Employment Authorization Document within half a year after they applied for asylum. Every two years, the couple has been renewing their EADs to stay in the U.S. Dmytro has been working as a cook and Olga has been working as an architect. Dmytro and Olga will attend a hearing this August to try to get their asylum application approved.

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On April 9, 2022, Nataliia Voloshyna, left, and her daughter, Olga Kovalenko, right, join other activists in a protest against the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The rally took place in Times Square, Manhattan, New York City.

On March 10, 2022 Nataliia came to the U.S. with a tourist visa as well. Her six-month tourist visa expires Sept. 9. Nataliia will have to renew her tourist visa before then to stay in the U.S. Additionally, the U.S. allows Temporary Protected Status to refugees from Ukraine who have resided in the U.S. since April 11 and who have been physically present in the U.S. since April 19.

Furthermore, on May 21, Olga joined nearly 100 pro-Ukraine activists calling for an end to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The rally took place on the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City. There, Olga said Nataliia has been growing eager to return to Ukraine. Olga said some of Nataliia’s friends who fled from Dnipro to western Ukraine have recently returned to Dnipro.

Olga said the reason her mother hasn’t decided yet to renew her tourist visa or apply for TPS is because Nataliia wants to return to Ukraine. Nataliia doesn’t want to settle down in the U.S.

“I don’t know how our brain works, but in situations like this, we always hope for better and the sooner it comes the better,” said Olga, explaining why her mother doesn’t want to immediately apply for TPS. “So, my mother said she would stay a month or two months maximum in U.S. then go back home to Ukraine.”

In-person Audio Interview - 4-21-22 - Olga Kovalenko
00:00 / 01:00

On April. 21, 2022, Olga Kovalenko gives an interview at Streecha.

Olga said Ukraine is still too dangerous for her mother to return.

“But you know we see that it’s not safe,” said Olga, about the conditions in Ukraine. “It’s still not safe. Every day there are sirens, there are missiles and stuff like this. It’s not safe.”

Olga said it would be hard for Nataliia to live in the U.S. because Nataliia’s life is in Ukraine. Also, Olga said Nataliia has a summer home in Dnipro in addition to her apartment. Olga said Nataliia misses working on her garden and seeing her friends at her summer home.

“My mom wants to go back home as soon as possible. She feels safe here [the U.S.], but you should understand that all her life is there [Ukraine]. Her friends, her home, everything.”

Olga said her family will decide in late July if Nataliia will renew her tourist visa or apply for TPS. The family picked this time because the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services recommends people with non-immigrant visas to submit their application to extend their authorized stay 45 days before their stay expires.

Moreover, Olga said one of Nataliia’s concerns is not being able to provide for herself and receiving support from Olga and Dmytro. Olga added she doesn’t want her mother to work because she is retired. Olga said she and Dmytro have no problem providing for Nataliia.

“She’s worried that we have to pay for everything for her,” said Olga about Nataliia. “It’s my mother. She paid for me when I was little. So what’s the problem with this? Not a problem.”

On April 21, Dmytro sat at Streecha after taking several customers’ orders. He spoke about what it has been like to provide refuge for Nataliia during this time.

“We are the family,” said Dmytro. “So of course when any of us need any help, any assistance, we’re going to help each other.”

In-person Audio Interview - 4-21-22 - Dmytro Kovalenko
00:00 / 01:32

On April. 21, 2022, Dmytro Kovalenko gives an interview at Streecha.

He talked about how Nataliia’s emotions have changed through the course of the war.

“Now with time going and with the development of the war of the aggression of Russia against us, she now realizes she has to be with us a little bit longer than what she expected initially,” said Dmytro. “It’s a kind of pain when she is reading all the news about what’s going on to our people. We are family with her, but we are all Ukrainian like one big family now which is suffering from the aggression of our neighbors.”

Nataliia sat at a table in Streecha after picking up a tray of hand-folded varenyky she helped make.

“I want Ukraine to win,” she said.

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On April 22, 2022, Nataliia Voloshyna lifts a tray of uncooked varenyky she helped prepare with other volunteers at Streecha.

For more photos of the pro-Ukraine activism movement in New York City, please click here.