ADA, Mich. (WOOD) — It’s been nearly three months since Russia launched an invasion on Ukraine. A family who lived in part of the war-torn country has finally found safety right here in West Michigan.
Yuliya Parker lives with her husband and two teenage children. She has now taken in her parents, sister, niece and nephew, who all fled Ukraine. They have been living at Parker’s home for about two weeks.
“We decided it was time for them to get out of there,” Parker said.
On Feb. 24, the day Russian President Vladimir Putin declared war on Ukraine, Parker said she knew right away there would be mass destruction.
Parker’s family, who doesn’t speak fluent English, tried to stay as long as they could but said the intimidation they suffered was endless and the agony weighed heavy on Parker from afar.
“My hometown (Melitpol) was bombed the very first day because it’s right in the southeast of Ukraine. So they hit the airport and the communications tower. I couldn’t speak to my parents for a few days. It was agonizing,” she said.
She worried for her parents as Ukrainian and Russian solders fought near her parent’s home.
“I lost my mind at that point of time but then everything calmed down and my town fell to Russians and was occupied immediately,” she said. “After that, I just tried to find out about my parents and how they were going to live under Russian occupation.”
Parker’s parents were threatened with heavy artillery. The town they knew for decades was no longer recognizable. There was no freedom.
“They saw the horrors of women being raped and people getting killed and civilians being hunted down by the Russian soldiers,” she said. “I think my town was the very first town where the mayor was kidnapped and people started disappearing, businesses were being taking away.”
Parker knew that she somehow had to protect her parents so she pleaded with them to flee town and go to Parker’s sister’s home in Zaporizhzia, which was about two hours away from where they lived.
They were too scared to leave out of fear they would die along the journey.
“Our biggest concern was how to get my parents out of occupied territory. My parents had to go through multiple Russian checkpoints,” she said. “You read the reviews and see what people are saying when they escape my hometown. Some people were saying the Russians could open fire. You didn’t know what to expect so people were petrified to move out.”
As weeks passed, the situation in Melitopol and nearby towns worsened and Parker’s worry grew.
“They have no mercy for anyone, the Russian soldiers,” she said. “They could go get bread and be targeted by Russian soldiers. You didn’t know what to expect, whether they were in a good mood or a bad mood.”
They had to pay someone to bribe the Russian soldiers to get out of the occupied town. There were over 10 checkpoints with no bathroom stops.
“They had to wear diapers. There was so much artillery and equipment and soldiers around that they didn’t want them taking pictures and reporting back to the Ukrainian army. I think that’s why they weren’t allowed to use the bathroom,” Parker said. “It’s humiliating. When they reunited with my sister it was such a relief.”
They were only safe to a point. Though the Russians hadn’t overtaken the city Parker’s sister lived, soldiers were still able to make threats.
“Even though the Russians weren’t in my sister’s hometown they were shooting rockets left and right randomly. You could be at home and the rockets would fall randomly on civilians house,” Parker said.
Children didn’t go outside. They slept in the hallways away from the windows.
“It was really scary. You always feel like a fear of death,” Parker’s sister, Iryna Kalenska said.
Thankfully, they all had tourists visas and Parker’s parents, sister, niece and nephew were able to leave Ukraine. They traveled through Lviv and crossed the border to Poland then drove to Warsaw and flew to Chicago.
It has been an adjustment living in the United States as they worry how things are going in their home country.
Parker’s job and the community have offered support for her family by giving clothes and donations.
“We believe in the Ukrainian army and believe they will be able to return home,” Parker said.
If you would like to help this family or other families in Ukraine, you can donate at gofundme.com.