Ukrainian family displaced by war to stay in Tecumseh
TECUMSEH, Mich. (WTVG) - A Ukrainian woman and her family are making the move to come to the United States on Saturday thanks to help from a Tecumseh, Michigan family.
“We consider her a daughter, absolutely,” said Kari Mattson. She is talking about Valeriya Isakova, 22, who is from Ukraine, and lived with the Mattson family in Tecumseh for one year as an exchange student in 2015.
“It was a great experience,” Mattson said. “I have three daughters and she was like their older sister.”
Mattson said she continued to keep a close relationship with Isakova when she returned back to Ukraine. They also maintained communication when the war began between Russia and Ukraine.
“She woke up on February 24 to sirens and bombings,” Mattson said. “I was watching it on the news and she messaged me and said, ‘It’s happening.”
Isakova, her mother, Oksana, and 11-year-old brother, Artur, fled Ukraine by train. First stopping in Poland, before eventually traveling to Germany and then Switzerland, according to Mattson. Under martial law, Isakova’s father is needed to stay in Ukraine.
“A woman died on their train cart. There was no bathroom, no food and no drink,” Mattson said. “They each had a backpack and brought water, but she now says if she would have known she would have only packed water, it was that important.”
Mattson has spent the last few months helping Isakova and her family get to safety. She assisted in finding shelters for their family, including an Airbnb in Switzerland.
“We found an Airbnb and the woman was kind enough to let them stay there for a month,” Mattson said. “She just charged utilities that she later refunded back to them.”
In March, they filed for a Visa to come to the United States and had a meeting schedule in May, Mattson said. Mattson also said she reached out to several local and state government offices to see what could be done. In the meantime, President Biden announced in April the “Uniting for Ukraine” program. It provides a streamlined process for Ukrainian refugees to temporarily stay in the U.S.
“The importance of this program is it allows them to be here for two years to work and have a job,” Mattson explained. “Where the visa would just have allowed them to stay for up to six months and no ability to work or go to school.”
According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration services, the first step in the “Uniting for Ukraine” process is for the U.S.-based supporter to file a Form I-134, Declaration of Financial Support, with USCIS. The U.S. government will then vet the supporter to ensure that they are able to financially support the individual whom they agree to support.
“Basically, we sponsor them and show that we can support them so they won’t become a public charge and they cannot go on government assistance,” Mattson said.
During the pandemic, Mattson and her family transformed their basement into an apartment that will now be home for the Isakova family.
“It just seemed like the best place because we can’t afford to house them somewhere,” she said. “They will have their own space with a living room and kitchenette.”
The community has donated several items, including bedding, towels and clothing, but Mattson said the main need is financial assistance.
“It’s tough, I have three girls and one is going to college next year,” said Mattson. “Without everybody’s help this would be difficult.”
Tecumseh High School students created sunflower artwork that will be posted throughout downtown Tecumseh. According to district leaders, sunflowers are the national flower of Ukraine and the artwork will be used to help welcome back Isakova and her family.
Click here to make a donation to help support the Isakova family.
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