Ukrainian refugee finds new home in Pittsburgh

When 2022 started for Daria Zhuravska, she felt good about her life in Ukraine.

The 27-year-old Kyiv resident had landed a job as an office manager for an information technology company. She lived with her boyfriend, not far from family and friends, and enjoyed taking dance and yoga classes.

As she recalls, there were discussions on the Internet around February 18 about an impending Russian attack on Ukraine. Zhuravska did not believe it.

“Everybody thought it was fake like, ‘Come on, it’s the 21stst century, what can begin? “, did she say. “I had no worries. A little yes, but I couldn’t even believe that such a horrible thing could happen.

Nevertheless, his boss brought in buses and parked them nearby. They had to put the employees in a safe place in case of a Russian attack. And, as if things weren’t scary enough, Zhuravska tested positive for covid-19 the same week.

Since then, like so many Ukrainian citizens, Zhuravska’s life has been radically different.

She has now lived what must feel like parts of three lifetimes in the first few months of this year alone; the life she was used to in Ukraine; take refuge with his family in Germany; and now a new life alone in America where she makes friends, improves her English and follows a new career path.

Zhuravska is among the first Ukrainian refugees to come to the Pittsburgh area. How she got here is about as coincidental as anyone can imagine and just as lucky.

Sitting comfortably on a white leather sofa in the home of Ross resident Danette Rocco, Zhuravska looks very comfortable in a red jacket, black pants and trendy tennis shoes – items that Rocco helped her buy.

Zhuravska has been here for a few weeks. Although it has been almost three months since Russia attacked Ukraine, his memories of the day the war broke out are still fresh.

She remembers the morning of February 24 very well.

“Around 5 a.m., I woke up. I didn’t understand why I woke up,” said Zhuravska who speaks very good English with a distinct Ukrainian accent. “I just had a cup of water and went back to bed. Ten minutes later my friend called me and said, ‘The war has started. The Russians have bombed many key airports in the major cities of Ukraine and kyiv is also bombed.

“It was very scary because we (didn’t know) what to do,” she said. “My mother and I were in a panic.”

Zhuravska and her family, including her parents, grandparents and a 16-year-old sister, headed to her aunt’s house in a village on the outskirts of town. She said they could hear missiles flying overhead and bombs exploding nearby and spent most of the next two days in the basement of the house.

It was becoming difficult to stay where they were but also risky to get back on the road. Eventually, the family decided the only safe thing to do was to leave the country. After learning there was a three-day wait to enter Poland, they drove to the border with Hungary where Zhuravska said goodbye to her father and the rest of the men who were not allowed to leave. Ukraine.

From there it was on to Slovakia, Poland and the town of Bad Kissengen in Bavaria, Germany, where the family decided to stay while the war worsened in Ukraine.

But Zhuravska was not particularly happy in Germany and decided to pursue her teenage dream of coming to America.

“It’s a matter of mentality,” she says. “I felt that the American mentality would be closer to mine. I always thought that Americans would be more open-minded, that there were a lot of opportunities. I also heard stories of Ukrainians coming to America to build their lives, find a good job, start a good family here, and generally feel comfortable.

Zhuravska posted a message on Facebook which she called “Please universe help me”.

Rocco saw it and answered. Their first communication dates back to April 1.

“Daria was one of the first (Ukrainians) I saw (on social media) wanting to come to the United States,” Rocco said. “I saw her message and cautioned her and suggested she stay with a woman or a family.”

A mother of two adult sons, Rocco now lives alone. She offered Zharaska a chance to stay with her.

“I miss being a mother, it was my favorite role in life,” Rocco said. t drive), near a place where she could do yoga.

Zhuravska also liked Rocco being a guidance counselor at the Phase 4 Learning Center, a place that helps at-risk people graduate from high school and succeed in higher education, the military, or the market. work.

It took Zhuravska three to four weeks to get to Pittsburgh, and she arrived in America not a moment too soon. She flew from Germany to Mexico in California just days before April 25, the day the Biden administration began denying entry to Ukrainians attempting to cross into the United States via Mexico.

Since arriving, Rocco said they have been busy getting the things Zhuravska needed since leaving Ukraine with a suitcase, especially clothes, as well as a bank account and health club membership.

What Zhuravska seems to enjoy the most is accompanying Rocco three days a week to work at Phase 4, a non-traditional school, where students do things at their own pace and receive support if they need it. need. This allowed her to learn new skills, work with students and improve her English.

“I’m learning and maybe one day I can do the same, like helping young people. Kids are kids and they’re smart,” she said. “It makes me feel good because I have always studied psychology and I intend to help young people.

Phase 4 Founder, President and CEO Terrie Suica-Reed said Zhuravska’s presence brings a lot to the learning center environment.

“We are very happy to have him here,” she said. ” She is strong. She is intelligent. She learns very quickly. She is very grateful to have the opportunity to be in the United States. She loves our city. She is also grateful to the Phase 4 staff because it’s like family.

Still, Zhuravska said she misses her Ukrainian family and is worried about her father’s safety as well as that of her boyfriend who has joined the Ukrainian military. She thinks she will be in the United States for at least a year. After that, she could go back to Ukraine but she is not sure.

“I certainly appreciate this experience. Maybe I’ll find work here, friends, and I’ll stay here. For now, I can’t say.

Paul Guggenheimer is a staff writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Paul at 724-226-7706 or [email protected]

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