Yearning for home a year after war began: Ukrainian refugees make a new life in the suburbs

Since arriving in the United States nearly a year ago, Nataliia Sukhodolska and her husband, Iurii Siedov, have adjusted to life away from their home in Kyiv.

The couple, who have been staying with their daughter in St. Charles, celebrated their 50th anniversary in the fall. They found a new doctor, and Iurii underwent minor surgery. Siedov turned a small patch of his daughter's yard into a vegetable garden, and the couple have a TV dedicated to streaming news and other programs from Ukraine.

They're happy to be with their daughter, Yaroslava Dunn, and are grateful for the outpouring of support from local groups like Random Acts Matter, a St. Charles organization that has assisted the family the past year.

They're especially thankful for the medical care they've received through Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital, where Siedov had his surgery.

Sukhodoska, a published author in Ukraine, has even written a few short stories about her time in the United States that she hopes to publish someday.

Although the couple have adjusted to life here in the United States, their desire to return to their apartment in Kyiv hasn't faded. They call friends, family and colleagues daily for updates.

"They want to go back home as soon as possible. It's basically at the top of their mind," Dunn said as she translated for her parents, whose apartment in Kyiv still stands. "They tell me every day about how nice it is to visit, but they really would like to get home as soon as possible.

"But the thing of it is that now it's out of the question because it's still too dangerous to go back."

A year ago today, Russian troops invaded Ukraine, escalating a conflict that started in 2014.

Days before the invasion happened, Dunn and her sister, Natasha Stevens, urged their parents to leave their apartment in the nation's capital.

But when the invasion began on Feb. 24, the couple stayed in their home. By March 2, however, the couple were asking their daughters for help to flee. That began nearly a monthlong process that involved Dunn and her sister traveling to Poland to bring their parents to the United States.

Though the couple arrived in Poland together, Sukhodoska arrived in the United States on March 18 and stayed in Wisconsin with Stevens. Dunn stayed behind with her father to secure a visitor's visa for him, and they finally arrived at O'Hare International Airport on March 30.

Their story is not unlike many other Ukrainians who fled after the invasion. According to World Relief Chicagoland, Illinois is the second-largest destination for Ukrainians coming to the United States. The organization says more than 25,000 applications have been submitted from sponsors in Illinois wishing to help Ukrainians, and it estimates it has provided services to more than 800 Ukrainians in the Western suburbs over the past year.

"The numbers just continue to go up," said Susan Sperry, executive director of World Relief Chicagoland.

Organizations across the suburbs have stepped in to help as refugees continue to arrive in the United States. St. Andrew Orthodox Cathedral in Bloomingdale estimates it has sent more than $500,000 in donations to Ukraine. This winter, the church sent 100 diesel heaters for the Ukrainian troops. Parishioners have also helped send radios, food packets and other aid to the country.

On Saturday, the church will hold a service at 10 a.m. to commemorate the anniversary of the invasion and the 9-year anniversary of the start of the conflict. A wreath-laying ceremony also will be held at the church at 10:30 a.m. The Counsel General of Ukraine will be at the service.

"Our thoughts are with the Ukrainian people," said John Jaresko, president of the church board.

Jaresko said the church continues to provide assistance to Ukrainians as they arrive in the suburbs. The church recently announced a partnership with the College of DuPage to provide free ESL classes. He had hoped to have a class of 15 for the first session but was surprised when 50 expressed interest after the first announcement about the class.

COD and church officials were meeting Thursday to discuss plans to help meet the demand for the class.

The church, at 300 Army Trail Road, also partnered with the Self Reliance Association and is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each Thursday to provide refugees assistance in obtaining work permits, health insurance and jobs. Jaresko said he also met with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently to discuss some of the hardships - such as obtaining work permits - that Ukrainian refugees face here.

Despite the challenges of making a home in a new country - even if just until the war is over - Jaresko said the Ukrainian spirit remains strong.

"I see the resiliency; many of them have just dusted themselves off and this is a reality," he said. "They're willing to roll up their sleeves and survive. They're survivors, and they're willing to fight back at home. And those who have had to leave are fighting for their survival in new countries."

To donate to World Relief Chicagoland, visit To donate to St. Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral, visit

  Yaroslava Dunn's parents, Nataliia Sukhodolska and Iurii Siedov, regularly stay in touch with friends, family and colleagues in Ukraine. They believe Ukraine will win the war and hope to return to their home in Kyiv soon. John Starks/
  Yaroslava Dunn said her parents, Nataliia Sukhodolska and Iurii Siedov, are grateful for all the support they've received since arriving last year. John Starks/
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