Sixteen Acres Garden Center in Springfield helping refugee family from Ukraine

The United States continues to render aid to the war torn country of Ukraine as Russia’s invasion surpassed the one year mark in February.
Published: May. 31, 2023 at 7:15 PM EDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WGGB/WSHM) - The United States continues to render aid to the war torn country of Ukraine as Russia’s invasion surpassed the one year mark in February.

‘Uniting for Ukraine’ is a program set up to welcome Ukrainian refugees with family members here in America. One family taking advantage of that can be found right here in Springfield at Sixteen Acres Garden Center located at 1359 Wilbraham Road.

In 1962 John Bordenuk brought his gardening skills from Ukraine here to the United States and opened up Sixteen Acres Garden Center. Now today, his daughter, Judy and her cousin, Vira are working alongside each other as Vira and her family seek refuge here in the United States.

“The war in Ukraine. It’s a terrible time for my country,” explains Vira Syrota, a Ukrainian refugee.

Last September Vira and her 12-year-old son, Stephan made the journey from Ukraine to western Mass. They arrived in Wilbraham in September under the ‘Uniting for Ukraine’ program – where Ukrainians have the opportunity to be sponsored by family members in the U.S. over a two year time period.

“People help me. Judy is an angel. And Judy’s family and friends,” Vira tells Western Mass News.

Vira and her son are sponsored by her cousin, Judy Bordenuk – the owner of Sixteen Acres Garden Center in Springfield.

“They expressed their desire to come over and I know her son was very afraid. They would have the sirens going and he would go in the basement and he wouldn’t want to come out. So, I thought I had to do something. And we were able to get them here,” says Judy.

She tells Western Mass News she met Vira when she traveled to Ukraine fifteen years ago to meet her father’s family. She credits her father’s Ukrainian roots for his gardening passion that translated to his business.

“His parents learned how to work the land, grow plants and that’s really the start of Sixteen Acres. They taught their son how to grow plants and he took it further and started his own business,” Judy explains.

The Garden Center has become a love for Judy as well – but now it serves as a place that Vira feels a sense of home away from home.

“My job in Sixteen Acres helps me. I need to answer customers. I study new words. All my life I lived in a village. And I liked to garden. I had many different flowers in my yard and different bushes and different, different flowers. So, this job I can relax,” notes Vira.

While working at Sixteen Acres Vira is also taking classes at Holyoke Community College to learn English – and she says her son shares many of the lessons he’s learning in his sixth grade class at Wilbraham Middle School.

While Stephan is adapting well playing sports for the first time like basketball and soccer it hasn’t been easy.

“He has lots of friends. At the first time it wasn’t very good. It’s a different life, different people, different culture, and different language,” Vira tells us.

“They are doing very well. They have adapted, and it is a very different culture for them. Stephan said to me when he first got here during the first week he said I feel like I just woke up in an American movie,” explains Judy.

Vira’s husband was able to reunite with his family here in Massachusetts last month – but there are still many others facing the war in Ukraine every day.

“I miss my parents and my country and friends and family,” Vira notes.

Judy tells us that she is hopeful one day they can return to their home but for now she is happy to provide her cousins with a safe place to live.

“We’re hoping that maybe they can stay. Or have the ability to visit their parents sometimes and stay in the United States. But we don’t know what the future of the program has that they’re here under. But we do know that they are here safe and sound and what else can we ask for,” Judy explains.

And she knows her father is looking down proud of the legacy that’s being carried on.

“She just loves being here like my father did. He loved being among the flowers and rearranging them and making room for new ones. And we feel that his spirit is even more enhanced with his relatives being here. Our relatives,” adds Judy.