A year into the war in Ukraine, thousands of people have applied to come to Minnesota

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The war in Ukraine has now entered its second year.  The latest data from the Minnesota Department of Human Services shows there have been 2,832 Uniting for Ukraine applications from the state since the war started.

The Uniting for Ukraine program created a pathway for those seeking safety to get temporary status in the United States, if they have a supporter willing to help them when they arrive.

“I am lucky person, a blessed person,” said Maryna Kyrylkova, who came to Minnesota in June through the program with her husband Volodymyr and her children, Sofiia, 13, Vova, 12, Dasha, 8 and Ksusha, 6.

Maryna and Volodymyr Kyrylkova have found employment and their four kids are now enrolled in school in Champlin. Her son Vova even joined the hockey team.

“I’m enjoying being a mom, being a hockey mom, meeting my kids from school,” she said. “At the same time, in evening I watch the videos, I read the news and I just cry and I can’t believe it happened.”

The family left their home, which is about 50 miles from Kyiv, two days after the invasion. Kyrylkova’s mother, sister and husband’s family are all still in Ukraine.

“We were really worried about our lives and about our kids,” said Kyrylkova. “It’s scary to be in this situation when you need to leave everything you have.”

During the crisis, she called a friend half way around the world in Minnesota.

“I said ‘Well where are you going?’ and she said ‘We don’t know, we have no idea, we just leave’,” said Kelly Lindell, who lives in Champlin.

Lindell met Kyrylkova more than 20 years prior while on a mission trip in Ukraine. They kept in touch as pen pals but slowly stopped exchanging letters as Kyrylkova grew up. They reconnected on Facebook a few years ago.

“Especially during COVID when things were shut down, and they were from a smaller community, she would get up at 3 a.m. Ukrainian time to join a small [bible study] group that we had on Zoom in Champlin,” said Lindell.

When she got the call from Kyrylkova after Ukraine was invaded, she started working to get the family to safety.

“I knew her for 10 days when I was 11 [years old] 20 years ago, so it was unbelievable,” said Kyrylkova. “I had no idea how it could be possible.”

A wave of generosity soon followed. Lindell’s friend in Germany offered to host the family for a few months. In June, the family was approved to fly to America through the Uniting for Ukraine program.

A farmhouse was waiting for them, arranged by Lindell through other friends.

“It was a wonderful opportunity,” said Roy Kalkbrenner, who owns the home with his wife Shirley. “Yes, we’d love to have them in our home.”

The Kalkbrenners had moved to a senior living complex so the home was empty. They’ve allowed the family to stay for free.

“We’re just fortunate that we can let them do that,” he said. “We raised seven children in that house and it’s been so good to have a family in there and hear the children laughing again in that house.”

“It was amazing how many people came forward and offered to help get the house in order for them, not only the cleaning but also furnished it, it was unbelievable,” Shirley added.

In addition, the community raised thousands of dollars to help the family get started in Minnesota.

“Everybody can do a little bit and when everybody does a little bit, it works, it can be a beautiful thing,” said Lindell. “I think every single person from the community benefitted from it. When you give, you receive and I think we’ve all been so blessed by them being here.”

Kyrylkova is doing her own part to pay it forward. In her position at International Institute of Minnesota, she helps other families escaping the war find housing, English classes, employment and other necessities when they arrive.

“I’m helping in my way to Ukrainians who have experienced this war and I understand because I experienced some of that,” she said. “Minnesota became a state that provides really huge support for Ukrainians and all Ukrainians know if you want to be served, somebody to help you, you just need to come to Minnesota.”

International Institute is still doing intakes every week, according to Kyrylkova.

“It’s one year of lost plan, lost hopes, it’s one year of changing your minds becoming worried more about your family, about your kids, about just safe lives,” she said. “It was a really hard year and thank God we can do this with my family and I hope all families can feel better.”