‘I’m very thankful’: Madison comes together to help Ukrainian family start new lives in US

MADISON, Wis. — It has been seven months since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Seven months of war have been catastrophic for Ukrainian families. Many have turned to hope in the United States.

News 3 Now first shared the story of the Bykov family in March. Snizhana Bykova and her two children, Daniil and Arina, left their home in Kyiv to flee to safety in the United States.

Their American friends Anne and Jeff Munson welcomed the Bykovs into their already crowded Fitchburg home on March 6.

Six months later, the Bykovs are living on their own. They moved into a Middleton duplex in July.

“Signing a lease here was a serious decision I had to make,” Bykov said. “I called my husband crying. I asked his advice. I also talked to Daniil and Arina. I asked them, ‘Do we stay or do we go home?’ My kids said, ‘We stay.'”

The congregation at Midvale Community Lutheran Church sponsored the Bykov and Munson families and helped make this all possible.

The church developed an immigration action plan complete with a formal business plan to support an individual or family seeking asylum in the United States.

All of the furniture in the Bykovs’ new home was donated by the church and the rent was fully paid by members of the congregation.

Toni Swandby is a longtime church member and chair of the immigration action team.

“It’s a really rough road,” Swandby said. “We have an endowment, We had money for an apartment, food, clothing, all that kind of stuff. We had people willing to help with rides, transportation, cooking, you name it.”

Midvale Community Lutheran Church alerted the Immigrant Justice Clinic at UW-Madison and the Community Immigration Law Center in Madison that they had raised enough money to help support an individual or small family seeking asylum.

“One of the neatest things that happened wasn’t even in the business plan,” Swandby said. ” One of our church members came up with the idea of creating a community garden. When we found out Snizhana was coming as our first family, we decided to plant all the vegetables she would need to cook traditional Ukrainian dishes.”

The Bykov family took care of the garden all summer and harvested the beets, dill and cabbage needed to make borscht and other recipes.

“This has always been an incredibly welcoming church community,” Swandby said. “It’s never about this place. It’s about what comes out of this place.”

“It’s unbelievable,” Bykov said. “I’ve never met such kindness in my life. My family in Ukraine are amazed at how kind people are here. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude.”

The Bykovs, like many Ukrainians who have resettled in Madison, had vibrant careers they left behind a home.

Here in the states, they’re still waiting to resume those jobs. Federal work permit backlogs however have left families like Bykov’s in a months-long limbo since they arrived in the U.S. on humanitarian parole.

RELATED: ‘We want to work’: Ukrainians in Dane County wait months amid massive work permit backlogs

Snizhana and 19-year-old Daniil received word on September 23 that their federal work permits have been approved after a five-month wait.

Daniil is hoping to work and save enough money to resume his pursuit of a business degree at UW-Madison as soon as possible. He was accepted into the university in April but was unable to raise money for the tuition required to attend the fall semester.

Ukraine’s parliament voted to extend martial law in the country until November 21. Bykov is hoping her husband Vitaliy will be able to join the family in Wisconsin when the order expires.

“Now, I feel a different type of luck,” Bykov said. “Just to be lucky to meet very kind and very good people who understand what’s going on in my country and support me and my kids. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude and I’m very thankful.”

A GoFundMe page has been created to help the Bykov family. To learn more, click here.