Ukrainian refugees share their story after unwillingly leaving their home


Students at one of the six-week social group meetings.

Kristina Yosypiv, Staff Writer

On February 24, 2022, about nine months ago, Russia launched a full-scale invasion on Ukraine. They declared war on the country after hundreds of years of conflict and forced millions of individuals to leave behind everything they had and start their lives over in a safe area. 

“When my mom told me we were leaving Ukraine, I was heartbroken, for it meant that I had to leave everything behind: my friends, home, and family,” said freshman Sofiia Kruk.

Since the start of the war, tens of thousands of refugees have fled from Ukraine and immigrated to the United States, according to the Migration Policy Institute. As a result, many of them have joined our heavily Ukrainian-populated community in Stamford. Ulyana Yosypiv, the principal of the local school of Ukrainian studies in Stamford, said that 66 students have enrolled since the start of the 2022 school year. Meanwhile, a total of approximately 2,500 families have arrived in Connecticut within the past nine months. This shows a significant increase in the Ukrainian population, specifically in Fairfield County, and therefore in our own Stamford, Westhill, and Academy of Information Technology & Engineering (AITE) high schools, as discussed in the Stamford Advocate

The journey of immigrating to the U.S. and coming to a new school is not an easy one, and the Ukrainian students of Stamford High have described it as being very difficult and overwhelming. Their first months here consisted of many obstacles when adapting to the changes, especially the language. 

“When I came here, the thing I was shocked about the most was the school. It was like a large maze, with numerous floors and offices, teachers and security guards,” said freshman Yuliia Prysiazhniuk. She later described that, since she was not able to communicate with others in English, she was constantly struggling to get to where she needed to go. 

“My first days in Stamford High were extremely hard, for the school’s very big and I couldn’t freely speak English, limiting my ability to have full conversations with my classmates,” added Kruk, discussing how the language barrier created a large struggle for her. Yet, the students grew to admire Stamford’s community and the school.

 “Although I had mixed feelings about moving to the U.S, I instantly fell in love with Stamford. There is so much to do here, and the environment, buildings, and the city overall is amazing,” said Kruk. Also, they have found other Ukrainians who have gone through the same challenges they have faced, allowing them to befriend each other and find comfort through their shared experiences.

 “I quickly found friends who helped me a lot throughout the early days, and everything became much easier,” stated Prysiazhniuk. Furthermore, with the help of intense classes and welcoming people, the refugees have said that they have been able to overcome the language barrier in a decently short amount of time. 

To help the refugees feel comfortable after having to flee their beloved motherland, our school has done numerous things to aid them in becoming accustomed to our community. Stamford High School Social Worker Joann Carde began a social group for the refugees, to which they came every Friday for six weeks. In this safe space, the students were able to participate in fun activities that allowed them to get to know each other, talk about their experiences in their new school, or simply laugh with each other and gain the welcoming feeling they deserved.  

In Westhill High School, students Emily Pekar and Daniel Bak also formed a Ukrainian club to do the same, hoping to help the refugees feel connected to and safe within their new environment.

 “We want the new students to get to know everyone, make new friends, and overall, just feel better about their home being at war. We will never be able to understand what it’s like to leave our home and move to a new country with a different language. Everything changes,” said Pekar. As the refugees begin to feel more comfortable in their new community, the club hopes to incorporate their culture into the school environment by teaching other students and teachers about the lifestyle, food, and unique aspects of Ukrainian culture and traditions.

When asked what they miss most about their homeland, the Ukrainian students all answered, “Everything. There’s not a thing we don’t miss, and we could never pick out only one thing.” 

So, next time you encounter a person who has been forced to leave their home due to these kinds of horrible circumstances, take a second out of your day to make them feel welcome and put a smile on their face. It can make a much larger impact than you can imagine.