Ukrainian couple finds refuge in St. Charles, confident they will return home to Kyiv

In 1983, Nataliia Sukhodolska wrote a children's story about an old man who wanted to make the world unhappy.

As the Ukrainian native sat in her daughter's St. Charles home Sunday, she paged through the book of children's stories and pointed out the illustration of her story's villain. “Putin, Putin,” she said as she pointed to the picture.

Though the story she penned years ago wasn't about Putin, she said he was not unlike the story's villain.

The 78-year-old and her husband, Iurii Siedov, left Kyiv days after Russia invaded Ukraine. Their journey, filled with twists and turns, entered its next chapter Sunday as they settled in to their daughter's home.

The couple, who will celebrate their 50th anniversary in September, were together again after being half a world apart for more than two weeks. Sukhodolska was able to leave Warsaw, Poland, on March 18 with a daughter who lives in Wisconsin.

Siedov and daughter Yaroslava Dunn, who lives in St. Charles, stayed behind as Dunn worked to secure a visitor's visa for her father. They arrived Thursday at O'Hare International Airport evening and traveled Saturday to Wisconsin to pick up Sukhodolska.

“She was just happy and hugging us,” Dunn said of the reunion with her mother.

As Sukhodolska spoke Sunday about being a Ukrainian refugee, her husband's correction told of the hope the couple holds for returning to their home in Kyiv.

“You are not a refugee,” Siedov told his wife. “You just came to visit your daughter.”

The couple is grateful to be able to stay with their daughter and her husband, Thomas, but they also hold a confident optimism they will one day go home.

A retired nuclear physicist, Siedov looks forward to returning to Kyiv State University, where he is a professor. Sukhodolska wants to return home to continue writing and finish other projects.

“Ukraine will win,” they said through their daughter.

“It's not even hope,” Sukhodolska added. “We are confident that Ukraine will win the war sooner or later.”

A Ukrainian flag flaps in front of the home of Yaroslava and Tom Dunn of St. Charles Sunday. The Dunns are hosting the couple. Patrick Kunzer for the Daily Herald

Days before Russia invaded, Dunn and her sister, Natasha Stevens, urged their parents to leave Kyiv. But when the invasion began Feb. 24, the 78-year-old couple stayed in their home. By March 2, however, they were asking their daughters for help to flee and Dunn and Stevens were insisting that they leave, Dunn recalled.

The two women boarded a plane March 5 at O'Hare and headed to Warsaw. Her parents left their home in Kyiv the following day. The two women were reunited with their parents in Warsaw nine days after boarding their flight to Poland.

“I'm very grateful for my daughters who dropped everything and came here to rescue us,” Siedov said March 21 in a phone interview from Warsaw.

On Sunday, the couple talked about their journey from Kyiv to Warsaw. They left their home with a small suitcase to carry essentials and a backpack to carry food for their dogs. When the couple realized catching a train out of Kyiv would be too difficult, family and friends helped connect them with a Christian organization that transported them and a family friend, via minibus, from Kyiv to Lviv. A passenger with a basic cellphone helped the couple reach their daughters when the couple's smartphones would not work.

Sukhodolska, who left Warsaw on March 18 with Stevens, said she has encountered the same type of kindness since her arrival in the United States.

“You can see the goodness of people when you are in need,” she said.

The couple plan to stay in the U.S. until it is safe for them to return home. Their visitor visas are good for the next six months and can be extended once if needed, Dunn said.

In the meantime, Dunn said she will begin looking into what types of services, such as medical care, will be available to her parents during their stay. She also is looking into ways to make their stay more comfortable. Her parents, for example, used an iPad to hear the news in their native tongue. Dunn plans to subscribe to Ukrainian television stations while her parents are with her.

Dunn also will be welcoming her younger sister and her husband, both of whom live in Lviv and work for a cruise line, on April 12.

She and her parents said they will continue to support Ukrainians through direct contributions to people they know are in need. Dunn also continues to lobby for assistance both for the millions of refugees who have fled their homeland and for the military that is fighting Russia's aggression.

And while Sukhodolska and Siedov are adjusting to the changes brought by war, they say they have found peace with family.

“This is the best part,” Sukhodolska said through her daughter, “that my daughters are here for us. It's the greatest feeling in the world.”

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