Ukrainian refugees find hope in Texas over the holidays

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The Pop family is fighting three wars.

After Russia invaded their home country, the past two years have brought extraordinary challenges as they find safety in Austin. The father, Fedir, fled Ukraine in a wheelchair. He’s fighting a deteriorating diagnosis of ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, which has rendered him immobile and impaired his ability to talk.

His wife, Natalia, is fighting cancer. And their 25-year-old son Serhii, the only English speaker of the family, is helping care for them in a new environment. He says they may not be alive if not for the support and healthcare they found in Texas.

“2022 was the most depressed year as I remember in my life,” Serhii said. “A lot of things just changed…I was visiting emergency rooms, hospitals…I was not thinking that it was real.”

Days before Christmas, Fedir’s hospice caretakers helped them celebrate Christmas far from home. Gifts in hand, they bridged the language barrier with the universal gestures of kindness.

“We’ve been honored to care for him,” Kim Eplee with AccentCare Hospice said. “During Christmas time, we realized there were some needs they had, given that they are refugees from Ukraine, and there are not a lot of opportunities for employment…hospice is a very holistic way of caring for a patient. It’s not just about the patient, it’s about the family as a whole.”

Yet through so many unthinkable hardships, Fedir, Natalia, and Serhii maintain an inspiring spirit of gratitude. Of all the gifts they received, Natalia said the greatest gift would be to become American.

“We would like to be here,” she said in Ukrainian. “This country is for the people. This is a country of opportunities…We left everything at home, cars and houses and everything, but we don’t regret it because we don’t have anything for our children there. There is no future.”

“God blessed this country” Fedir said through labored gasps. “God bless America.”

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