Special Report: Heart And Hope, From Ukraine To Duluth
Russia continues to destroy parts of Ukraine, killing innocent men, women and children. In a special report – Heart And Hope – we’re bringing you the story of a Ukrainian family that found refuge in Duluth.
The family arrived this summer, and a Northland couple opened their home and hearts – offering hope when it was needed most.
For Lisa and Jeff Gasele, life in their home tucked away along the North Shore used to only involve a family of chickens. But it grew with a Ukrainian family of four living in their basement, including 5-year-old Danya Kupriichuk who quickly got attached.
“Oh, he likes Jeff,” Lisa said.
Oksana Kupriichuk and her husband, Yurii, have been on a physical and emotional journey since leaving Ukraine shortly after the war started last February — making stops in Italy and Turkey before arriving in Duluth in August.
“We’re really happy to be here now,” Yurii said.
For Oksana and Yurii, it’s not just a television war. A bomb fell just outside where Yurii’s father lives. The blast shattered the building’s windows.
“My very good friend call me in morning and say I must call my father. Because before our home drop bomb,” Yurii said.
Yurii’s father was no injured.
“It was very hard time for me,” Yurii said.
“It’s bad for people who live in these houses. It’s really bad,” Oksana said.
Despite all the dangers of war in Ukraine, they would rather be back living there. Ironically, they say their family members half way around the world are worried about them here in the U.S.
“It’s not like two hours and you are here. It’s many hours by plane and it’s, it’s some worried about it. And they want to be with our child, children, because they almost all the time with there,” Oksana said.
Oksana said the only reason her family left was to make sure her youngest could get access to life-saving medications, which would have been impossible to get while her country is under attack.
“Boghdan has a genetic disorder called PKU,” Lisa said.
The disorder involves the inability to properly digest certain foods. It helps that Lisa and Jeff have medical backgrounds. Jeff spent six years at the Mayo Clinic as a genetics lab supervisor and Lisa’s a registered nurse at St. Luke’s.
“So we knew we could really make an impact on his ability to stay healthy on things that he needs in his daily life. We have the ability to help him and his entire family so why wouldn’t we,” Lisa said.
And as for jobs, Oksana has a Master’s Degree in political science, and Yurii has experience fixing Ukrainian cars.
And speaking of vehicles, a van was donated to the family, among clothing, toys and furnishings.
For Danya, he’s attending school in Duluth and improves his English every day while being a teacher himself.
“He teaches us Ukrainian words every evening. We repeat it in Ukrainian and then we teach him in the English version,” Lisa explained.
It’s a special, unlikely coming together between two families once thousands of miles apart but now proving humanity can win — even under the darkest days of war.
“People who comes to our country, they’re really cruel because they kills little children, they doing something very, very bad,” Oksana said.
And while happy to be away from violence, pain and worries remain while watching reports of continued bombing, destruction and death back home.
“It’s something fill in me that destroyed, destroyed my heart,” Oksana said.
“We hope this war can stop — not long time,” Yurii said.
Since we gathered this story over the summer, the family has moved into their own apartment in Duluth.
Yurii got a grant for CDL training at Lake Superior College and is working in delivery. Oksana is looking for work and is going to study at the International Institute of Minnesota. And Danya is picking up English even more at school.
But while there are these happy moments, the family continues to face fears of war in Ukraine and they’re worried the world is getting used to Ukrainians dying because we aren’t seeing the devastation like her relatives are every day.
If you’re looking for ways to help Ukrainians in need, the best resource is through the U.S. Government’s Uniting for Ukraine initiative.