Ukrainian families assimilating in Butler County as war rages on in homeland
Three young Ukrainian families who escaped their war-torn hometown of Kharkov think the American holiday of Thanksgiving is a good time to say they cannot find the words to express their appreciation for the people in Butler County who donated money, clothing, food, gift certificates, toys and anything else to assist them when they arrived, penniless, in Cranberry Township with one suitcase per family.
“They want to say ‘Thank you very much,’ all people from Butler County, for being very kind and very helpful in their first months after they come,” the families said through the English skills of Lyudmyla Martin. “It is very difficult to be in a different country and feel love and warmth and comfort.”
Martin is a Ukraine native whose son and daughter-in-law, Maks and Yana Yarmatsevych, retrieved the families when they landed in New York City and provided accommodations for two families in their Cranberry Township home when they arrived in June.
A community fundraiser organized that month by Martin’s co-workers at the Butler Eagle raised more than $10,000, which was used to bring another young Ukrainian family from Germany, where they fled after spending eight days in a basement when Putin’s invasion of Ukraine began.
“I am very homesick, but the people in the U.S. are very kind and very friendly,” said Alina Lyman, who arrived in August with her husband, Dmytro, daughter Valeriia, 8, and son Nikita, 2.
All three families were able to come to the U.S. through the federal Citizenship and Immigration Services' Uniting for Ukraine program, which provides a pathway for Ukrainian families to come to America for two years and stay with a family who agrees to take financial responsibility for them.
All three Ukrainian families are now living in their own apartments in a townhouse neighborhood in Cranberry as opposed to the Yarmatsevych home, where the hosts and their son, Domenick, slept in the basement on a convertible sofa bed so their friends could have the bedrooms.
“They say when they open the door at their apartment, they have a feeling of ‘I’m home,’” Martin said.
All the families’ children, except young Nikita, are attending school in the Seneca Valley School District.
Matvey Kisel is a seventh grader at the district’s middle school, where he most enjoys gym class.
“School is good,” Matvey said in his prominent Ukraine accent. “I think I understand information, but there are some things I don’t understand.”
He has two periods of English as a Second Language every day, and the district provides a translator in class if needed.
“I miss Ukraine,” Matvey admitted. “I miss my friends and my grandparents.”
But he agrees the residents of Butler County have made the transition to American life much easier.
“I think it’s good people,” he said. “People understand the difficult time we have and they help us.”
Ivan Tkachenko attends ninth grade at Seneca Valley Intermediate High School, where he has made friends, although he is the only Ukrainian in the school.
“I like it here,” Ivan said. “There are many beautiful cars, and the people are really good people.”
Both boys agree their favorite American food is pizza.
Their fathers are helping Yarmatsevych in his construction business, and all the adults plan to get jobs as soon as they are issued Social Security numbers.
The youngsters are not the only family members who are studying up on the English language.
Matvey and Ivan’s mothers, Anna Kisel and Irena Tkachenko, are taking English-speaking classes at Butler County Community College’s Cranberry Township campus.
Kisel said about 20 people of all nationalities attend the twice-weekly classes.
“It is easier to understand than to speak,” Tkachenko said of learning the English language.
The group will enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving dinner Thursday at Martin’s house in Butler Township, where they will dine on turkey and all the trimmings instead of their typical Ukrainian fare.
“We will give thanks for the generous people of Butler County,” Martin said.