Hosting Ukrainian Refugees

In early July, I received an e-mail that said in a few days, 56 Ukrainian Refugees would be arriving in MN for the USA Cup. They were in need of transportation to and from some events, so I readily volunteered. Two days later I was picking up a mother and her two daughters from Northwestern College, where they were staying. The mother spoke very good English and we were able to talk about their lives and experiences in Ukraine. She admitted she was very naïve as they heard there might be a war, but never thought it would happen. Then one morning, the missiles and bombs came and she, along with her husband and two daughters, had only minutes to pack a small bag and leave. Because she was married and had 2+ children, her husband was able to leave with them to relocate to Budapest. He later returned to help deliver medical supplies to the military as well as relief (food) to the hardest hit cities. She cried as she told me that when she kissed her husband goodbye, she wasn’t sure she would see him again.

God is most certainly purposeful! Elina and I talked about how I lost my husband 13 years before, strategies I used to manage the grief and how I turned that grief into helping others. She asked me a lot of questions and said when she goes back, she wants to coach and help others on stress, grief and supporting families/children through their grief and loss. I was able to share some resources she is reading and using in her support work. At the end of the tournament, Elina and her family went back to Kiev. They felt they needed and wanted to be in a place to provide relief support and help families. We touch base several times a week. She updates me on what is going on with her family as well as needs of the community. And we pray.

Through the e-mail, I also learned they were going to need some hosts for coaches, families, chaperones and team members. I filled out an application and went through a background check. Timing was perfect as I had three open rooms, due to children having moved out. I was approved and assigned a girls’ soccer team manager, a mother and her 12-year-old daughter, who was on the team.

I picked them up around 10 p.m. and from the first hug, there was a connection. When we got to the house, I showed them their rooms and gave them a chance to settle in. I brought down a platter of Ukrainian bread, meats, cheeses and fruits, along with some black tea. They cried and thanked me for helping to feel at home.

Over the 7 days, I took them to sporting events as well as community and social activities. One night we were able to leave early and I treated them to manicures and pedicures. I wanted them to feel pampered. I also wanted them to see a beautiful sunset over Lake Minnetonka. We found a restaurant in Wayzata along the lake, shared a meal and then walked.

I noticed the 12-year-old was periodically flinching. When I asked the mom if she was OK, she said a small plane had just flown over and she didn’t want to look up in the sky. The young girl was showing signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). My heart sank. I wanted to hug and pour love into them. Later that night, I was able to pray over the family. I told them they had a lifetime friend and prayer warrior.

Special memories:

  1. Bringing the tray of Ukrainian snacks down on the first night. It put them at ease and showed them I cared.
  2. The 12-year-old girl, Dariia, loved to play with our dog Charlie. He would sit near her and lay his head in her lap. One time he cried when they had been gone all day and came home late. He jumped up, put is paws on her shoulder and gave her a kiss.
  3. I told them a tradition I had was to share a personal item they could take with them so we would always be connected. I took several of my nice bracelets and let them pick one. They did so and we hugged and cried.
  4. One night, two of my daughters came over and we had a dinner of borscht, meats, fruit and dessert. We had a wonderful time sharing a meal and enjoying conversation.
  5. Tearful goodbyes
  6. Learning how to make Ukrainian food at the Source kitchen.

My life was forever changed. I don’t think there was a day I didn’t cry. We hear stories of war and refugees in the news but to become personally involved, these strangers become family. It’s no longer news or propaganda but listening, praying for and understanding these individuals’ personal tragedies.

I touch base with everyone I hosted on a weekly basis. We share stories of family, what they’re experiencing, and I’ve even gotten some videos of how to make some Ukrainian dishes! We are forever connected and I look forward to seeing them; all have invited me to come when the time is safer.

In the meantime, I’ve developed a passion for how I can help. I’m hoping to plan a trip to Budapest to help deliver some much-needed items. This is only the beginning.

– Carol Hondlik