Ukrainian refugees grateful for Valparaiso woman's help in US as they celebrate 1st Thanksgiving

Michelle Gallardo Image
Thursday, November 24, 2022
Family who fled war in Ukraine celebrate 1st Thanksgiving
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A family of Ukrainian refugees are grateful as they celebrate Thanksgiving as an entirely new experience.

VALPARAISO, Ind. (WLS) -- At first glance, the Didek's and their extended relatives are like any other family in the United States Thursday, coming together over sweet potatoes and candied walnuts to celebrate one of the most American of traditions. Except, they are Ukrainian refugees and to them, Thanksgiving is an entirely new experience.

"In Ukraine, we don't have Thanksgiving Day. So this is our first Thanksgiving in the United States," said Iryna Zozuliuk, who is a Ukrainian refugee.

They said there is so much to be grateful for. Their host, Julie Carter, welcomed most of the family into her Valparaiso, Indiana, home nearly eight months ago, with more joining this past summer.

There have been English lessons and job permits to be arranged, apartments to be leased and two long-anticipated weddings. Then there is also 8-year-old Milana, who is now attending the second grade and learning to play the piano.

"Our family has multiplied greatly in the last few months," Carter said. "It's exciting to see Maria and Mikhailo, and the two younger children, have their own place now and then I had the two newlyweds here for a little while the last couple of months."

"Just two weeks ago, we moved to our apartment. Just right now, we need a lot of work but we are good," said fellow Ukrainian refugee, Anastasiia Didek.

And yet, for all the joy and gratitude, there is a cloud handing over them.

"Me, good, but every day I'm sad," said refugee Maria Didek. "My parents in Ukraine. My little brother, his family is in Ukraine."

In the meantime, this family moves on and are focused on the positives during the holiday with the help of Carter and an entire community that has wrapped their arms around them.

"We're here. We're safe. We have a home," said Mykhailo Didek.