They opened their home to Ukrainians. Now it's time to say goodbye

Two families — one Ukrainian, one American — who took part in the "Uniting for Ukraine" refugee sponsorship program are about to part ways.
Posted at 8:02 PM, Feb 23, 2023

In a suburban Chicago house on a recent evening, children and adults were devouring a household favorite in a seemingly ordinary scene. Yet for the two families that were strangers not long ago and have shared a roof for seven months, the low-key dinner was deeply emotional.

"I will miss our conversations; I will miss you," said Alla Chekhotska, a Ukrainian refugee.

"I will absolutely miss... just the time we spend together and the fun we have together because we're all goofballs," said Sherri Mohrman.

One year ago on the day Russia invaded Ukraine, Chekhotska and her two sons frantically took cover inside their home near Odessa in southern Ukraine.

"I heard many explosions, and that morning we ran with children in the bathroom," Chekhotska said.

To protect her boys, Chekhotska decided to leave everything behind.

"I decided to pack my bags and to go to safe country," she said.

As part of the largest exodus of people in Europe since World War II, it took the family five days to reach the Czech Republic, where they stayed for a few months. But ultimately their goal was coming to America.

"I was waiting for program from United States because United States of America, it was my dream," Chekhotska said.

Half a world away, Mohrman and her husband were glued to their TV.

"I just said, 'We have to do something.' We had to do something," Mohrman said.

As new empty nesters who raised five children, the couple had free space in their home.

"We really have a heart for kids, and we wanted to help a family that had kids," Mohrman said.

Ukrainian refugee Mariia Holovan with her sponsor family in the U.S.

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In April, the Biden administration announced a landmark program called Uniting for Ukraine. It allows Americans to financially sponsor Ukrainian refugees.

Instantly, the Mohrmans posted their information in a Facebook group matching refugees and sponsors. 

"We got 18 responses in three days," Mohrman said.

Eventually they were paired with Chekhotska and her two kids, 8-year-old Marc and 13-yeard-old Yaroslav. It took the Morhmans only a couple weeks to be all in.

More than 100,000 war refugees have arrived in the U.S. thanks to the generosity of American sponsors, according to government data Scripps News obtained. Thousands of them have landed in the heart of Ukrainian village in Chicago.

Pavlo Bandriwsky, a long-time leader of the local Ukrainian community, is hosting a family, too.

"We can't just expect the government to come up with all of the answers on its own," Bandriwsky said. "We're opening our doors because of our humanitarian concerns and our moral obligation."

To become a sponsor, people have to prove they have the resources to assist their beneficiaries during the two-year period they are allowed to stay in America. They also have to commit to help with housing, education, health care and employment.

Back in the suburbs, the Mohrmans have one more bittersweet task to do as sponsors: help the family move out.

Chekhotska has found her own apartment 20 minutes away. With help from the Mohrmans, she has also found a job, and her boys are thriving in school.

Though she says her heart bleeds for her home country and her relatives there, Chekhotska has done exactly what she promised herself a year ago: protect her children. And in the process, she has found a second family.

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