Ukrainian children find hope in Palm Beach County school community
Thousands of Ukrainian refugees are finding safety in the United States, some right here in our community.
WFLX has learned of at least two families now in Palm Beach County with their children, who are attending school here after escaping from their war-torn country.
A child's laugh. Eating pizza. Hiding from the rain. A game of rock, paper, scissors.
Signs of everyday life for children who escaped from war.
"When the bombing was continuing one whole day, we have to leave because we were scared," said Ukrainian mother Oksana Zinchenko. "In 10 minutes we were ready to leave and we didn't have any plan where to go."
"It was very dangerous for our life. We decided to leave the country," said Marina Kozachok, a fellow refugee. "We were physically walking through the border to Hungary."
Two families torn from their homes in Kyiv, now here in Palm Beach County trying to make a new life.
"When we arrived, at the beginning we did not understand a lot of things and we were scared when we hear the planes flying around," Zinchenko said. "Later we met nice people here who started to help us."
Zinchenko and her husband, Artem, flew with their children from Finland to Miami. Artem was only able to come with them because they have three children.
"The most important part for our family, the whole family was able to leave Ukraine," Zinchenko said.
Kozachok is here with her daughter after flying from Turkey. Her husband had to stay behind.
"Because of friends who are helping us a lot, we feel safe here now," Kozachok said.
The families came to the U.S. with just the clothes on their back, but are now feeling support from a new community.
"What can you take with you? The most important is to save our lives and to be safe mentally as well as physically," Zinchenko said. "We thank God for everything we have here. Our kids went to school."
When the families were ready to get their kids in school, Palm Beach County School Board Chairman Frank Barbieri called the Education Foundation of Palm Beach County, and that's what brought them to Red Apple Supplies in Riviera Beach.
"It was an amazing feeling for us," said James Gavrilos, the president and CEO of the Education Foundation. "It was so emotional as we were taking these young kids around and we made it fun for them. We let them pick out their own backpacks and we walked them up and down our aisles."
Gavrilos is in the business of helping others. But this, he said, was different.
"There was that sense of normalcy," Gavrilos said. "Will anything ever be normal for these kids again? What does that word even mean to a young person in a city that's being bombed? What does the word normal even mean to them?"
For a few hours, this brought them back to normal. Getting the supplies they needed to start school this week in the School District of Palm Beach County.
"Pick out folders, glue sticks, crayons, notebook cards. To pick out a special backpack that had Captain American on it," Gavrilos said. "If that doesn't do something to you inside, I can't help you."
So as these families try to move forward in a new country, coming to terms with what they lost is overwhelming.
"Because we were living in such a peaceful country. Ukrainian people, we are peaceful and friendly people," Kozachok said. "We were forced to leave our houses. We lost our jobs."
But they are thankful to feel welcome here.
"We want to see how friendly all the American people," Zinchenko said. "I'm ready to cry. It's hard to keep my emotions to myself."
"I'm grateful so much for the kindness that still exists in this world," Kozachok said.
And they have a final message as they hope for brighter days ahead.
"We're wishing for peace all over the world," Kozachok said.
"We would love to see Ukraine with no war and hope to live there again," Zinchenko said.
To learn more about the Education Foundation of Palm Beach County and its programs, click here.
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