Virginia man takes in Ukrainian family to ‘do something’

DANVILLE, Va. – Before the Russian invasion in late February, Volodymyr and Olha Volyk and their young daughter had their own apartment in their native Ukraine.

Volodymyr was due to start a new job as an international truck driver on March 1, and Olha, his wife, worked in retail.

“Before the war, it was a normal, quiet life,” Volodymyr, 32, told Danville Register & Bee of family host Michael McNeely. “We had a quiet life with plans and dreams.”

The Volyks have been living with McNeely since arriving in Danville from Ukraine on June 4.

McNeely has hosted the family as part of the Uniting for Ukraine program run by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The program was announced April 22 as a step toward President Joe Biden’s efforts to welcome Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion.

“Uniting for Ukraine provides Ukrainian citizens and their immediate family members who are outside the United States with a way to come to the United States and remain temporarily on probation for two years,” according to the US Citizenship and Immigration website services.

It was McNeely’s fascination with Eastern Europe that led him to record the Volyks.

“I decided to host a family because I’ve had a long-standing interest in Eastern European politics and culture,” said McNeely, who studied Russian for his bachelor’s degree at the University of Richmond. “I’ve been guided by this part of the world for most of my life.”

When the war began on February 24, McNeely was fixated on the news and wanted to help.

“It’s really not my ability to go out there and join the military, but when this program was created it was an opportunity for me to do something that I found constructive and helpful,” McNeely said.

The Volyks chose to come to the US because they believed it was a strong, safe and secure democratic country, Volodymyr said through McNeely.

“This is not a dangerous country,” said Olha, 25.

Even before the war, there weren’t many opportunities in Ukraine, Volodymyr said.

As for the Dan River region, the Volyks fell in love with Danville and Pittsylvania County. The area has beautiful scenery and friendly people, Volodymyr said.

“We’re trying to get used to it and live up to your example of being nice to one another,” he said.

The Volyks, who can stay for up to two years under the Uniting for Ukraine program, would like to stay in the United States

“Ultimately, their goal is to immigrate and become permanent residents,” McNeely said.

Volodymyr added: “If this is possible, we would stay in this beautiful country.”

The Volyks live in the Danville/Pittsylvania County area, he said.

Meanwhile, Volodymyr has submitted a form to get his work permit for the US. He plans to get a professional driver’s license.

“He’s trying to get those tests done here,” McNeely said.

He also takes English classes at the Adult Learning Center in Danville.

Olha, who earned a degree in chemical engineering and oil and gas refining in Ukraine, will take care of her 22-month-old daughter Sofia.

For McNeely, the process of receiving a family involved finding a suitable family to sponsor and completing a sponsorship application. The receiving family provides the host with their information and the government looks at the sponsor’s financial records to ensure they can provide a place to stay for the family.

Once the sponsorship is approved, the family will confirm their identity and apply for travel authorization to enter the United States

McNeely, who met the Volyks through a Facebook group, said the sponsorship process took just three days.

The Volyks also had to be tested for tuberculosis before coming to the United States

Volodymyr, who grew up in Vinnytsia, and Olha, originally from Monastyr Leshyanskie, came to Danville from Vinnytsia.

His hometown has a population of about 300,000, a similar number to Greensboro, North Carolina. The city has a factory that makes Russian sweets and another that makes electronics for Volkswagen.

A factory was also built in Vinnytsia, which produced ski equipment for the European market. The city’s newly remodeled airport was bombed by the Russians on the first day of the war.

Monastyr Leshyanskie is much smaller.

“It’s a really small village,” Olha said.

“It’s more of a sleep community, like a sleepy village,” McNeely said.

Community residents work elsewhere, he said.

The Volyks keep in touch with their families, but the couple’s relatives have no plans to emigrate to the United States

“Their parents are glad they (the Volyks) are safe,” McNeely said. “But they don’t want to go themselves.”

However, one of Volodymyr’s sisters left Ukraine and moved to the United Kingdom.

Vinnytsia has been the target of attacks since the Russian invasion, including rocket attacks on Havryshivka Vinnytsia International Airport on March 6; rocket fire that hit a TV station on March 16; and an airstrike on March 25 against the command center of the Ukrainian Air Force, according to news reports.

Vinnytsia was more or less a safe place, McNeely said, translating for Volodymyr, “but fears for the life of the family and daughter forced her to leave the country.”

Volodymyr said there were also concerns among the Ukrainians that separatists and Russians could also invade parts of neighboring Moldova from there.

McNeely said he still gets messages on his Facebook group from people seeking help. Other residents of the Dan River Region who wish to host a family can contact him.

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