Family of Ukrainian refugees arrive in Gaithersburg: Here's how you can help

A family of four who called Kyiv their home is now among millions of refugees wondering if they'll ever return. But unlike the vast majority, they were able to come to America.

Sergii Bodak and Hanna Knyha along with their sons Yehor, 12, and Lukyan, 4, are now staying with a family in Gaithersburg. They were only able to come to the U.S. due to a prior ten-year tourist visa.

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The people they initially planned to stay with weren't able to host them, but they got connected to another family via the Nextdoor app.

"All we knew is there are two adults and two children," said Faina Stepensky.

Faina and her husband Arkady emigrated from Ukraine over 40 years ago. Their son saw the Nextdoor post about the family and they wanted to help.


Their adult children are now helping them support the Bodak family along with neighbors and community members who have provided donations. A GoFundMe page has already raised over $3,000.

The Bodak family began their journey out of Kyiv at the end of February.

"They didn't actually see the bombing, but they heard the bombing because it was happening maybe 40 km from where they were," Faina translated for Sergii.

Hanna said it was terrible for her children.

"Especially the four-year-old who could not understand what was going on and why they would have rockets hitting our apartment and why do we have to run," Hanna said. "'I want go to preschool,' he was saying."

After heading west and staying in underground shelters, they went to a refugee camp in Poland. Sergii said he isn't eligible for military service because of poor health and past surgeries, and feels badly he's not fighting alongside loved ones.

"His brother and his cousin, they both are on the front lines and those are the two people he cannot get in touch with," Faina translated for Sergii. "And he's very concerned about their well-being. Whether they're still alive or not."

After a week in America, Hanna said her kids are doing betting every day.

"Little Lukyan, for the first time today he started singing songs," she said.

She became emotional speaking about the lifeline extended to her family by strangers.

"We're fed, we're dressed," Hanna said. "We're alive and that's the most important thing."

Refugee resettlement in the U.S. is a process that can take years, which is why so few Ukrainians are here. On Nextdoor, many people have inquired about how they can host refugees.

There have been calls to bring more refugees to America.

"I would like to ask American government and our policymakers to make a quick decision and open the doors of United States to people like (the) Bodaks," said Arkady Stepensky. "We would love to have more people. Please give us an opportunity."

The Bodaks' tourist visas only allow them to stay for six months and they are not able to work.

The Stepenskys have contacted members of Congress to seek a long solution.