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Ukrainian family spends first holiday season in the Twin Cities after fleeing war

The family of five fled war stricken eastern Ukraine in September.

BROOKLYN PARK, Minn. — This holiday week marked nine months since Russia first invaded Ukraine and Minnesota-based Alight, a humanitarian organization, has been in the region helping the estimated 14 million refugees from the beginning.

But this fall, it has taken that outreach one step further by supporting Minnesotan groups wanting to welcome Ukrainian refugees seeking a safe haven into local communities.

The Holiuk family has called the Twin Cities home for the last two months.

"The hardest part for us is that we cannot see our loved ones," said Vadym Holiuk. 

The family of five, who spoke through a translator, fled war stricken eastern Ukraine in September, finding a home away from home with Mark and Sharon Norlander of Brooklyn Park. 

"It's been a huge adjustment that's for sure," said Mark Nolander. "We were empty nesters and so we've had a quiet house since our daughters left."

That nest has evolved into a home for the Holiuks.

"We've moved downstairs and they've taken over most of the upstairs," said Sharon. 

The home is once again filled with love, silly songs of joy and sticky notes to help the Ukrainians adapt to the American way of life. 

"We just put up little post it notes around the house with vocab words and we've also got a word of the day list where everybody writes down  a new word they learned in English and us in Ukrainian," said Mark.

The families were brought together through MN-based Alight, a non-profit organization working as part of the National Uniting for Ukraine program as the U.S. offers a safe haven for 100,000 Ukrainians.

"We're taking a small part in the helping them write the story of their life," said Mark. 

"Thankful for Mark and Sharon they make it really easy for us," said Vadym's wife Liubov Holiuk. 

Alight's goal is to match 100 welcome groups, including families, book clubs or church groups, with Ukrainian families arriving in the U.S.

The organization also helps those Minnesotan sponsors with everything from fundraising, to navigating the school and work registration process.

To learn more about the program including how to host a family click here.

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