Susan and Ted Holmes opened their home to Liudmyla and Volodya Stepnyk and their three children, Yulia, Dmytro and Veronika, during the Biden administration. “Unite for Ukraine” resettlement program.
The Ukrainian family will celebrate their first Thanksgiving holiday in the United States, gathering around the table and learning about American tradition and foods. Susan Helms says they feel blessed to be able to share both cultures with her as they serve dinner at her home – pulling pockets of steamed stuffed cabbage out of a pan on a chilly night in Darien, Connecticut.
“Should we go get our plates and get our halupki?” asked Susan Helms.
Susan Helms says Liudmyla Stepnyk was late preparing the dish. It’s one of the Ukrainian traditions in which Liudmyla Stepnyk and her family find solace after fleeing their home in western Ukraine when Russia invaded Ukraine in February.
Liudmyla Stepnyk is practicing some of her English, saying the cabbage pockets are filled with rice, meat and boiled. Susan Helms says they look like little gifts.
Around the dinner table, the spirit of thanks and giving is felt with the sharing of meals.
The Stepnyk family arrived in August and are still getting used to life in America. Ted Holmes says it was a big change for him and his wife, who were empty nests. He says the two families share responsibilities for cooking, which is a mix of Ukrainian and American food.
Ted Helms joked with ABC News that he and Volodya Stepnyk were “eating and showing up.”
Susan Helms says she was determined to help once the war started and through her research she was able to find relatives in Ukraine and decided to sponsor them to come to the United States. She and Volodya Stepnyk connected on Facebook.
Under Ukraine’s exemption from martial law, men raising three or more children can get a reprieve. Volodya Stepnyk says he made the decision to go there to ensure the safety of his children. Yulia Stepnyk, who is the eldest of three children, says her family first fled to Poland before hooking up with Susan Helms and getting permission to come to the United States.
Under the Uniting for Ukraine program, US-based citizens can financially sponsor displaced Ukrainians who are still outside the United States. They apply to receive a two-year temporary humanitarian visa and go through a verification process. Susan Helms says that once the family arrived, the children were enrolled in school.
Yulia Stepnyk is 17 years old and in her last year of high school. Her siblings are in middle school and have already celebrated their birthdays in the United States
Volodya and Liudmyla Stepnyk say they are trying to give their children the best possible life and are grateful that they were able to come to America.
All say they find peace – something they haven’t felt since leaving their home, but still miss the life they left behind.
Yulia Stepnyk embraced the message of this holiday and said that at first it seemed strange to her to come to a new country, but she says she is no longer afraid.
“I’m grateful to everyone around me,” Yulia Stepnyk told ABC News. “Because you came to another country, to the stranger’s house, and now when we have these meals. I just feel that love.”
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