Since Russia invaded Ukraine early last year, the Carmel community has been doing its part to provide support for Ukrainians in a variety of ways. Some have opened up their hearts, some have opened their wallets, and some even their homes.
The Koladas, who fled their home in the Kyiv suburbs in March 2022 after air and tank attacks nearby, is one such family that has found a new community in Carmel. They left everything behind, traveling with suitcases filled only with essentials.
Undecided on where to go, the family connected with Nataliya Griffis, a Carmel resident originally from Ukraine and an old friend of the Kolodas, when helping to evacuate Griffis’ 71-year-old mother, Antonina Mazur. Griffis then invited the Kolodas to temporarily relocate to Carmel until it is clear how the war unfolds.
Natasha Sobetska-Koloda and Dmytro Koloda have two children, a daughter, Solomia, 14, and son, Pavlo, 10.
Natasha and Dmytro work at international companies, so they have been able to keep their jobs during the relocation. Natasha is a human resource generalist at Audubon Bioscience and Dmytro is a finance executive for a real estate company.
When the Kolada family first came to the U.S., they were picked up by friends at the Chicago airport and brought to Carmel where they lived for two months with Kristi and Sean Kennedy, who are extended family of Griffis.
At first, Natasha thought the family would stay in the U.S. for a month before returning home.
“I thought, ‘How long can war be in the center of Europe, 10 days or two weeks?’” she said.
Natasha said the entire neighborhood of Sunrise on the Monon came together to ease their transition. Neighbors would bring food, clothes and bicycles for kids. Natasha said she is grateful to have such a welcoming Carmel community of neighbors.
“Right now, we are living without health insurance,” Natasha said. “We are allowed to work in America, but our temporary protected status (TPS) will end in October next year. Not knowing if the TPS is extended and not having health care adds to uncertainty for us and our children. We live month to month and can’t plan long term. Our kids are well integrated in Carmel schools, which they love. Uncertainty in the future is one of the biggest challenges.”
The family still wants to return home after the war ends, but until then, they are dedicated to helping their fellow Ukrainians.
“As Russian aggression continues, the needs are growing, but it is getting harder and harder to raise funds, find help,” Natasha said. “It is crucial for us to continue sharing our story that the war is not over. Ukrainians are being terrorized daily by the effects of the war.”
Natasha said the family feels fortunate to have found close friends in the area. The family benefits from speaking English. Many fellow Ukrainians don’t have the means to find a place to live, especially initially, or speak the language to get established quickly.
Griffis said Ukrainians living in central Indiana need clothes, groceries, furniture and personal supplies. Griffis estimates there are approximately 200 displaced Ukrainians in Hamilton County.
“There are people who left everything or had their home destroyed and came with nothing,” Griffis said. “We are thankful for the Hamilton County (residents) for trying to support displaced Ukrainians during this tragic time.”
Griffis said they are open to networking opportunities or if someone wants them to speak or share their story to raise awareness.
One way Griffis said they are supporting friends back home is sending bulletproof vests.
“By April, we had sent 24 suitcases of different military gear to help other friends, the civilian soldiers,” he said.
Griffis founded Empower Ukraine for those with shared values to provide aid and support to Ukrainians she knows personally.
“A friend of ours went to the army, and he was killed,” Griffis said. “We raised some money for his widow and her two kids. Right now, we are raising $20,000 for night vision devices to send to our friends on the frontline.”
Griffis said those wishing to make donations for civilian soldiers scan visit spot.fund/HelpCivilianSoldiersUkraine.
Griffis said many of her friends stayed in Ukraine for multiple reasons.
“Right now, they are struggling with no electricity, no internet, extremely high cost of living to keep homes warm and with light,” Griffis said. “Kids stay in bomb shelters during the school day when the air raids are on. We are actively supporting our friends in Ukraine. They need our help to survive this winter and beyond. Since the inception of the war, we have been constantly raising funds and passing along to meet urgent needs of Ukrainians we know.”
In September 2022, in partnership with InCycle Studio, owner Cathy Miller and fitness instructor Courtney Clyne, held a fundraiser called Cycle for Ukraine. It raised almost $20,000.
Finding a new home
Nataliya Griffis came to the U.S. approximately 12 years ago to work for a medical device company, Helmer Scientific, in Noblesville. Griffis had met with owner David Helmer in Kyiv.
“The company invited me to do the volunteer and corporate responsibility program for them because they would be sending employees to Ukraine to do camps at the orphanage,” Griffis said. “I’m a board member at Mission to Ukraine now. Then I was helping Helmer Scientific annually.”
Griffis’ mother, Antonina Mazur, was living in Kyiv when Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine began Feb. 24, 2022.
“She stayed there for the first week and didn’t want to leave and then we hardly got her out of Kyiv,” Griffis said. “The bridges were blocked and there were no planes. She spent three days trying to get out. She spent 24 hours first at the railway station trying to get a train.”
She eventually got on a train and then a bus to Warsaw, Poland.
“My husband flew to Warsaw to pick up my mom, but he was running late,” she said. “I reached out to Natasha because she was there, and they met.”
On March 4, 2022, they met in Warsaw.
“Having an American along helped streamline, plus she doesn’t know the language and doesn’t like to fly,” said Griffis, whose mother lives with her in Carmel. “My mom is now hosting a family in her apartment in Kyiv. There are a lot of people helping people. That’s one of the reasons Ukraine is standing so strong.”