Starting over in a new country at a moment’s notice, while there is violence raging back home and you’re worried sick for your family: This is what thousands of recently arrived Ukrainians are currently dealing with as they cope with the grief of war and sudden displacement. Many of them are also trying to learn English, navigate foreign bureaucracies, and find community in unfamiliar places.
The U.S. has admitted over 100,000 Ukrainians since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24. The number represents just a small portion of the millions who have fled the country since — mostly into other parts of Europe — in the fastest-growing refugee exodus in Europe since World War II. Many Ukrainians came to the U.S. under the Biden administration’s private sponsorship program Uniting for Ukraine, which grants humanitarian parole for a period of up to two years.
Amid uncertainty over what the future holds or how long they’ll stay in the U.S., some of the newly arrived are finding solace in the creative pursuits they enjoyed back in Ukraine. We spoke with three women who have relocated to Northern Virginia, each of whom possesses a dream that powers her through each day.
Here are their stories, told in their own words and translated into English.
I was born and raised in Kyiv, and now I live in Aldie. I’m so glad I chose this family and this state. The weather here is similar to that in Ukraine. I like both the nature and the people here.
I have been making cakes since I was a child. My first cake, I cooked under my mother’s guidance when I was about 4 years old. It was for my sister for a beauty contest. My mother doesn’t like baking, so she was happy to have me as a “trainee.” It all started then, I think! That’s also probably why carrot cake is so special to me, because it was the first I made. As I got older, I got better and better at it: I stayed up all night trying to get it right and often threw my work away because it wasn’t good enough. I’m very strict with myself in this way.
Now, I have been making cakes for more than five years. What I love most about this activity is having the opportunity to contribute to the feeling of celebration. I’m glad that my desserts have the power to give people joy and put a smile on their faces.
I bake traditional cakes, cheesecakes, cakes with cheesecake filling, cupcakes, macarons, as well as truffles, brownies, jams, and more. I make a lot of seasonal desserts: In the fall and winter, I make a mulled wine cake and a latte-spice cake. For Christmas, I make Stollen, a traditional German bread with fruit and nuts. It requires three weeks of aging, which is why I prepare it long before Christmas.
Baking helps me personally in that I feel that I am in another world when I’m doing it, where there is no routine, only love, joy, happiness, and creativity. I enjoy the process and completely immerse myself in this world. I love everything from start to finish, from choosing ingredients to choosing the ribbon on the packaging. I hope that in the future, everyone will have the opportunity to try my desserts, perhaps even in my own coffee shop.
As for the future of Ukraine, I know Ukraine will win! It will get up, wipe its tears, bandage its wounds, and move forward. Ukraine has only one direction, and that is forward — to develop, grow, strengthen, and improve. This is not a hope, it is a fact, and with the support of other countries, there is no other way. We will rebuild everything, and the wounds will heal.
My whole family is still in Ukraine. I have a big family; my parents have 11 children. I also have nine nephews. Three of my sisters and two of my brothers are currently fighting in the war. Others are trying to take care of their families. I do what I can to support them and to support our defenders. I was there, and it’s scary. And here it is not easier, honestly, because you are alone here. I still hope that everything will end soon, that I will be able to hug my family again, kiss my grandmother, mother, father. Even our land is ready to be kissed!
It’s really hard to watch everything happening and feel like you can’t do anything. But I’m here for a reason — there is meaning in this — and I need to follow through and do everything I can.
Hair and Makeup Stylist
I arrived here in September from Kyiv and now live in Fairfax. I’m here with my husband, and we have a baby boy due on November 26. I never had this feeling like I want to move to the States and “live the American dream.” This was a spur-of-the-moment decision. We finalized our documents and flew here.
In Kyiv, I actually worked as a police officer and did beauty services on the weekends. I have been a makeup artist for seven years, a hairdresser for two years. I have done all types of makeup and hair services, and I can teach the art of makeup. But my main love is working with brides. I love doing romantic wedding day makeup and making them feel beautiful on their special day. I am planning to open my own beauty bar in the future. I’ve long wanted to open a place like this of my own, where there would be a makeup artist, a hairstylist, a manicurist. It would be one beauty bar to start with, and if it ends up working out, it could be a chain.
I like that there is a community of Ukrainians here. I can see that there are opportunities to develop my own business here, and it’s not too hard. And I really like Fairfax and Northern Virginia in general. I don’t know too many people yet, but I’ve met a few other creative women — we’re going to find some models and do a photo shoot in the near future.
The challenge here has been dealing with all the documents, particularly insurance. My doctor in Ukraine said I have to go to the doctor as soon as I get here; I have to go every two weeks at this stage. I haven’t been able to go because I didn’t have insurance. But I’m finally going tomorrow.
My mom and grandma are still in Ukraine. My grandma doesn’t want to leave. I don’t know what will come next. I think only God knows what will happen next. I don’t know when I will see my family or friends again.
It is very hard for me to see innocent people dying in my country, and I try to help as much as I can. I couldn’t have thought that in the 21st century, this kind of war would be possible. I thought it would never touch us.
I came to America at the end of August from Ternopil, together with my family. We have a 4-year-old son and currently live in Fredericksburg.
For the last three years in Ukraine, I have been doing my favorite thing — photography. I decided that I will continue it here.
I don’t think moving is a reason to forget about yourself and your hobbies. On the contrary, it can be an experience that encourages you to grow, seeing your sphere of activity from a different perspective.
On the other hand, it is very difficult to start a business in a new country, even if you are 100 percent familiar with it. Everyone has their own peculiarities of conducting business, providing services, and more. And it’s especially difficult given the stress that has been experienced by every Ukrainian who was forced to leave because of the war. This is my situation right now. I’m essentially starting over, going through all the same steps I went through in Ukraine when I first started.
I focus on lifestyle photography: families, portraits, love stories. In this type of photography, you can see people’s real, genuine emotions. It’s easy to find a common language with the models at my shoots. You just ask them to perform a certain action, and then watch them. I adore my subjects. I offer several packages: a mini photo shoot for one or two people, a one-hour photo session where I provide 20 photos, and a one-and-a-half to two-hour photo session, where you get twice as many photos, but at a better price and with the possibility of changing the location.
As long as it is dangerous for my family and my child to live in Ukraine, I plan to work and grow here. I don’t want to put my life on hold. I’m not ruling out the possibility that I will like the U.S. so much that I will want to stay here for a long time — even after our victory and the end of the war.