Irina and Oleg Shulzhenko lived in Kharkiv, Ukraine, near the Russian border with their two children, Stacy and Matthew. Unfortunately, as the invasion by Russia continued, the family had no choice but to flee their home to escape the violence.
The family has been living in Central Texas near Austin since April 2022. They first went to Poland after fleeing Ukraine before making their way to the U.S. through a humanitarian program.
The Shulzhenko family had never been to the U.S. before but had some friends in the Central Texas area, so they chose to move there. Despite their difficulty finding affordable housing and coping with the Texas heat, the family said the welcoming people have made them love the area.
“People who surround us, it’s very friendly, and they’re very helpful in supporting us,” said Irina.
Their surroundings now are vastly different from what they were at their home in Kharkiv. The threat of a bomb was a real possibility at any moment in Ukraine. The family watched from their home as bombs hit government buildings only about a mile and a half away.
“It’s mainly government objects near our house, near our apartment. So, at any moment, you can catch a bomb,” said Irina.
The Shulzhenko family was assisted by the Austin-based nonprofit Global Impact Initiative (GII), which helps refugees from many countries. Currently, GII is helping seven Ukrainian families that recently relocated to Central Texas.
Part of GII’s assistance includes putting the families through English classes.
“So, classes with the Austin teachers, we have two hours per week,” said Irina. “And we plan to start ESL class in Austin Community College.”
Stacey attended Leander High School for the last few weeks of the school year. She will be a senior next year.
“It was pretty exciting to meet new friends and to talk with them,” the teen said. “It’s different how they live here and what traditions do they have.”
Although she has chosen to go by Stacy, that is not her real name. She felt Stacy would be easier to use here in Texas.
“My full name is Stanislava, so Stacy is a lot easier,” she laughed.
As the family continues settling in a new country, they remain uncertain how long they will stay in the U.S. or if they will go back to their home in Ukraine.