On February 24, 2022 Iryna and Oleg Svavolia’s family of 9 had tickets to fly from Kyiv, Ukraine to Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Svavolias were fleeing as refugees.
“About two days before they were due to arrive I got a travel canceled notification for the Svavolias due to a Covid-19 positive test,” said Ruth, the Svavolia’s Case Manager.
They had to go back to their empty apartment because they had been planning on leaving… bombs started falling that night.
Unfortunately, February 24, 2022 was also the day Russia invaded Ukraine.
“They had to go back to their empty apartment because they had been planning on leaving, and I believe bombs started falling that night. What do you do? Do you flee or will that jeopardize your chances of coming to the United States?” asked Ruth.
“We didn’t know how our situation would be resolved or what would be next, we just hoped in God and prayed,” said Oleg.
There was no fuel for their cars nor food to feed to their family members, so Oleg and Iryna boarded their seven children ages 4 through 20 onto a train, not knowing where it would stop.
We could feel our train car rattling from the shock waves of the explosions.
“There was no electricity or heat on the train. We would often stay in one spot at night without light, waiting until it was safe to go again. We could feel our train car rattling from the shock waves of the explosions,” said Oleg.
They finally arrived in Poland. Through church connections, a generous family offered to house the Svavolias and five other Ukrainian families.
“Of course, it was a bit crammed in the house but praise God we had a roof over our heads, food, and safety,” said Oleg.
They waited for three months until their airfare was rescheduled in June. The Svavolia family was coming to Minnesota!
“We worried on the plane, thinking, ‘Lord, praise you. Is this really it? Have we really reached this goal that we’ve waited so long for?’” said Oleg.
On June 7, 2022 the Svavolia family arrived at MSP airport, greeted with hugs from sisters, brothers, cousins, uncles, and aunts, along with Arrive Ministries staff and volunteers.
…when we landed, we said ‘Praise God! At last, it is over.’
“That was a very anxious moment, when we landed, we said ‘Praise God! At last, it is over,’” said Oleg.
“It was pure joy. Just knowing their story, and finally the day has come. I got to have a little window into this joyous moment in the midst of what is continuing to be a horrible conflict. This one family made it out. This one family got reunited. That was a good night,” said Ruth.
“We were very happy, very happy!” said Oleg.
This one family made it out. This one family got reunited.
Arrive Ministries welcomes our newly-arrived refugee neighbors in a holistic way, through 90-day case management as well as connecting refugee families with Good Neighbor volunteer teams. The Svavolia’s have been matched with a volunteer team from Jubilee Church committed to loving and befriending them.
“It warmed our hearts that people were taking care of us without even knowing us. People have been supportive because everything is new to us,” said Oleg. “We want to thank those people for showing us care and support.”
The Arrive Ministries housing team worked hard the morning of the arrival to secure a house and set-up it up with beds, furniture, kitchen and household items.
I want them to know as they pull the quilt over them, that they are in a safe place, they are valued, and they are welcomed.
“It was all-hands-on-deck. When I am making the bed, I think of the tired family arriving to their new home, and I want them to know as they pull the quilt over them, that they are in a safe place, they are valued, and they are welcomed,” said Ruth.
“We are very happy that we are here in this place and that new horizons are opening up. Of course, there are some difficulties ahead, but I think we will overcome them with the help of God,” said Oleg.
“My hope for the Svavolias is that they thrive here in the United States. That they get to rebuild life, and life to the fullest because they deserve that,” said Ruth.