Family From Ukraine Takes Refuge On East End - 27 East

Family From Ukraine Takes Refuge On East End

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The family at their current residence. KIRSTIN BONCHER PHOTOGRAPHY

The family at their current residence. KIRSTIN BONCHER PHOTOGRAPHY

Sophie Griffin on Jun 28, 2022

In February, Olga Buzulutska, her husband, Mykola Ignatiev, and her 6-year-old son, Mykyta Ignatiev, traveled to Mexico for a vacation. The family, from Zaporozhye, in southeastern Ukraine, planned to return home on February 26.

On February 24, Russian forces invaded Ukraine and airstrikes began on the nation’s cities.

Stuck across the world, with war raging in their homeland, the family had to find somewhere to stay. They lived in an apartment in Mexico for a month, then crossed the border into the United States with friends who they’d been traveling with. They stayed in the friends’ home in Riverhead for a month.

But with eight people in one house, it was crowded and unsustainable. Olga found the website Ukraine Take Shelter, a platform created by two Harvard students to help connect Ukrainian refugees to housing opportunities. She began reaching out to potential hosts, searching for somewhere for her and her family to stay.

Adam Potter, chairman of Friends of Bay Street, reached out, offering space in the guest house of his East Hampton home, where he spends weekends and summers with his husband and two daughters.

In early May, after some logistics and meeting Potter, Olga, Mykola — who goes by Nicholas, the English version of his name — and Mykyta moved from Riverhead to East Hampton and started to settle in. Mykyta started at Springs School, in first grade.

“When I came to speak to Olga and her family,” Potter said, “he was running around, playing with his toys. I saw his paintings from school in the guest house — they’ve made a home.

“Unlike in Ukraine, where class has been online because of COVID and the conflict, he can go in person and play with other children. He knows some English words but has trouble forming sentences — luckily, another child who speaks Russian sits next to him in class and helps.”

“He likes it very much,” Olga said of Mykyta’s time at Springs School. “They [are] playing, watching cartoons, growing plants and playing on the playground. I don’t know how they learn something!”

The social worker who helped them get settled at school also connected them to Project MOST, where Mykyta can go to camp for free.

While Mykyta has been getting acclimated and making new friends, his parents have been busy. They constantly read and watch the news, hoping what they see will be good news. But mostly they have been focused on running their company, which sells building equipment, scaffolding, farm machinery, ladders, etc., remotely.

Now their business is also selling containers for gasoline, crucial due to Russia’s destruction of Ukrainian infrastructure.

“There is a big problem with gasoline in our country,” Olga said. “There is no gasoline in Ukraine.”

“Russia is destroying gasoline storage now in Ukraine,” Mykola added.

Due to the war, their business is only at about 10 to 15 percent of its usual capacity. But Olga and Mykola are determined to help their employees.

“We want to save it,” Olga said of their business. “And save our people because there are many people in our company and they need work and need money. We are trying to save it.”

Being here is difficult for the family. Olga has had difficulties accessing timely medical care, and they miss, and are concerned for, their people back home.

The region they are from, Zaporozhye, is now occupied. Mykola’s grandmother and aunt live under occupation and are unable to use credit cards or access cash.

“Our family and friends, they hear the bombs,” Olga said.

But their relatives are staying put, like many Ukrainians. “Our family don’t want to leave,” Olga said.

Olga and Mykola are trying to find a more permanent place in Riverhead to live, but high rents on the East End are making it difficult.

However, they were incredibly grateful for all the help they’re gotten here. Potter has organized food, clothing, toys, gift cards and other donations from friends and the community.

“The community has been unbelievably and incredibly supportive and helpful for this family,” Potter said.

Provisions in Sag Harbor gave a gift card for groceries, the Wharf Shop gave toys, members of the Sag Harbor United Methodist Church gave clothing, and a friend who owns the Strong Insurance Agency in East Hampton lent the family his car.

“I didn’t understand why Adam and his family did it for us,” Olga said. “Why his friends gave us the car. I didn’t understand why. I don’t understand now. But then I saw that we help our people from our company. We help our soldiers — we and with our company — and we help for children and we help for humanitarian organizations. And we help our government.

“And I think the world is around [Ukraine] and it’s come back for us. Because we help what we can, and Adam helps what he can.”

Olga also thanked the teachers and staff at the Springs School for being so welcoming to her son. But Olga and Mykola are looking ahead to when they can return to their homeland.

“We wait for when the war will finish,” Olga said. “We want to go back home.”

“It’s not my home,” Mykola added. “It’s not my country. We like Ukraine.”

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