JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Olga Galushchak has spent her life in Ukraine. She and her family lived in Lviv. Even after Russia invaded her country one year ago, she planned to stay with her husband and their two children, 12 and 4 years old. But that changed just a week after the war started.
“A friend of my husband’s from the United States called him and said if it were him, he would send his wife and children out of Ukraine,” said Galshchak, describing the sudden decision to pack up her children and flee the country with her friend and her friend’s son and nephew.
She said it was gut-wrenching to leave her husband behind and separate their family.
“My husband could not leave. He is military age,” she explained.
They decided to cross the border into Romania.
“The line was huge, enormous, crazy,” she said, describing the chaotic rush to get out of the country where she was raised.
She said it took eight hours to get across the border in their car. They stayed in a hostel for refugees in Romania until they could arrange for a flight to Jacksonville.
Six days later they were in the River City, where a schoolmate of her husband has lived for 20 years.
The family already had two other families living with them but found Galushchak’s family shelter through another family in Jacksonville. That Jacksonville generosity from strangers continued for the next year. Another family allowed the mother and her two children to live in their home in Riverside. St. Paul’s School, Riverside, accepted 12-year-old Viktoriia immediately and her 5-year-old brother is now enrolled as well.
“St. Paul’s School, they were so kind to us,” Galushchak said with a huge smile on her face.
Eight months after Galushchak fled Ukraine, her husband was able to join the family in Jacksonville.
“He has a medical waiver,” she explained.
She said thankfully her family in Lviv is OK but said they live in constant fear.
”Every day the sirens, they have to hide. The rockets are flying over their houses. They hope, they believe in God that they will be OK,” she said.
Seeing the images of her country devastated by rockets and fighting has been heartbreaking. She tearfully described the pain of hearing and seeing what has been happening there during the last year.
“Some days are so horrible,” she said with a shaky voice, fighting back tears. “It’s hard. It’s hard. It’s so cruel and there is no purpose. I don’t see the purpose. It’s so awful. The author of the most horrible horror films cannot be able to make up such scenery. All this cruelty, all these awful things. I’m sure no one can imagine all this can happen.”
Galushchak is relieved her children are flourishing in school and is forever grateful to the people of Jacksonville who have welcomed and cared for her family. To try to make ends meet, she makes jewelry and sells it on Etsy. If you would like to help her and her family, click here to find her page in the Etsy store.