‘We had to leave all we had’: Family recounts ‘terrifying’ escape from war-torn Ukraine

Catholic Charities helped grateful Niyazov family when they arrived in Jacksonville

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – This week marks one year since Russia invaded Ukraine, uprooting countless families and forcing them to move far from their homes.

Hundreds of them have settled in Jacksonville and one family shared their story of survival with News4JAX Saturday on The Morning Show.

The Niyazov family’s photos reflect happier times in Ukraine, but that all changed in an instant when Russia invaded their nation one year ago this week, turning their lives upside down.

RELATED: One year later: Local mother shares gut-wrenching decision to flee war-torn Ukraine

“We experienced the most missiles coming from Russia because we live in Kharkiv and that’s close to (the) Russian border,” Surkhrab Niyazov said “It was a terrifying experience. And we had to leave all we had in (our) homeland, our friends, our family, our home. (Now) we’re trying to start a new life.”

The Niyazov family’s photos reflect happier times in Ukraine. (Photos provided)

Surkhrab Niyazov, his wife, Inna, and their children visited The Morning Show studios on Saturday to share their story and spread the word about how they were helped by a local organization: Catholic Charities.

Surkhrab said after the invasion he and his family worked their way toward the U.S. by moving through several countries in Europe, eventually settling in Jacksonville.

He said he didn’t imagine when they arrived in the River City in August that they would still be here months later.

“People have been telling us, ‘It’ll be over soon. It’ll be over soon.’ But apparently, it’s not. We hope it’s going to end soon, but I don’t see an end to it as of now,” Surkhrab said.

Through it all, Surkhrab prays for those still waiting for the war to end. He also urges them not to lose faith.

“They were very good at protecting their people. We even as citizens were surprised that the Ukrainian military was able to fight back,” he said. “My message will be to stay strong. I’m positive Ukraine will win this war.”

Surkhrab said since arriving, he and his family have not had to struggle to settle in because of the help they have received from friends and from Catholic Charities.

The Niyazov family and Hellai Noorzai from Catholic Charities stopped by The Morning Show on Saturday. (WJXT)

Hellai Noorzai, the refugee program manager for Catholic Charities, also stopped by The Morning Show on Saturday.

She, herself, is a refugee from Afghanistan and said being able to help others means everything.

“It’s the greatest feeling ever seeing these families starting a new chapter of their life here in the United States,” Noorzai said. “We have seen a lot of faces with fear and trauma. One of our goals at Catholic Charities is to bring the smile back on those faces.”

There are things you can do right now to help them with that mission.

Financial assistance is the fastest and easiest way to help locally. To learn more about how you can do that, or to donate directly, go to the Catholic Charities website: ccbjax.org.

About the Authors:

Ashley Harding joined the Channel 4 news team in March 2013. She reports for and anchors The Morning Show.

A Jacksonville native and proud University of North Florida alum, Francine Frazier has been with News4Jax since 2014 after spending nine years at The Florida Times-Union.