Getting Answers: Ukrainian refugees settling in Westfield

Published: Nov. 10, 2022 at 7:56 AM EST
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WESTFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - Russia’s war on Ukraine has driven millions of Ukrainian refugees from their homes, leading some families to settle in Westfield. Within a week of the war commencing on February 24, Ivan Vemelianov said he knew it was time to leave.

“It was very scary…we have relatives there. I have two sisters and they have childre, both of them, and it is hard to understand and we feel maybe some guilt because we are here safely, and they are in dangerous situation,” said Ivan Vemelianov.

Ivan said the war was not a surprise as the family anticipated it for years after Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014, but Ivan’s wife, Liudmyla Yemelianova, said there was one tipoff that something was happening.

“It started in February actually and right before the actual war started, they started to notice those people, the government, it seemed like they were leaving,” Liudmyla Yemelianova said through an interpreter.

The journey to the United States took two months as the family waited for their visas in Romania. They were able to come to Westfield as part of the refugee program. Anna Antropova, supervisor of the English Learners Program at Westfield Public Schools, said the school has welcomed 67 students from the region since the war began. Liudmyla said that adjusting to a new country was hard at first. The couple have four children ranging in ages from 3 to 12.

“The first reason is language, of course, and adaptation,” Liudmyla Yemelianova added.

The couple’s son, 12-year-old Viktor Filimonov, smiled sharing how he has taught himself English quickly.

“I have friends and I know English a little or more than I have in Ukraine. I like the school, I like lessons,” Viktor Filimonov explained.

The family said they find peace in Westfield.

Yana Gorbata, her husband and four children also left Ukraine at the beginning of the war. They traveled to Moldova, another country bordering Ukraine, to seek shelter. It also took them two months to make it to the United States after leaving Moldova.
While thinking of Ukraine, Yana chokes up.

“It is her city. She born there in Usatovo and her heart is aching right now thinking of her city,” Yana Gorbata said through an interpreter.

Her mother and sister still live in the region.

“It is like a part of herself is staying there still. That is why it hurts a lot,” Gorbata added.

However, Yana told Western Mass News that adjustment is key to stability.

“She also understands you are in a new country, so you need to get used to everything that is here as soon as possible, to be useful to your family, to your kids, to this country,” Gorbata explained.

Originally from Russia, Antropova said she feels good she can help these families.

“It really warms my heart knowing that I am from Russia and knowing what is going on. I feel that it matters a lot to them and it matters to me to know when I am making this connection to them, I am doing my part as a human being,” Antropova said.