WHITEFISH - It’s now been seven months since the start of Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Thousands of lives have been lost; homes, schools and churches have been destroyed — and families are forever changed.
That’s the case for Yurii, Vitalina and 3-year-old Anastasia Zinchenko who are from Kharkiv.
The Zinchenko’s have moved 10 times since the beginning of the war, living out of a suitcase as they search for safety.
They have now relocated across the world, to their new home in Flathead County.
Before the war, life was peaceful in Ukraine for the Zinchenko family.
“I was born there and live my almost 40 years, and I never thought of leaving this place,” said Yurii Zinchenko.
WATCH: Yurii Zinchenko talks about his frustration with the reasoning for war
Overnight, everything changed in late February.
“Get to bed your windows always shaking because always missiles hitting the ground somewhere and you don’t know where and where the next missile could shoot,” said Yurii.
Yurii and his wife Vitalina quickly made the hard decision that Kharkiv was not safe enough to call home anymore, packing a suitcase, and leaving the only life they knew.
“When you have a child everything changes, the main reason why we’re here and why we left our home in March, is our daughter,” said Yurii.
The Zinchenko’s moved around different parts of Ukraine staying with friends and family as the war raged on, before leaving the country altogether in late July.
“I’m here for my daughter but my heart is still there,” said Vitalina Zinchenko.
Vitalina said the war crimes Russian troops are committing in Ukraine are a parent’s worst nightmare.
“Because so many children…who were scared about this war…and so many dead children and people…it’s very, very awful things,” said Vitalina.
After a short stay in France, the Zinchenko’s were granted refugee status in America, moving halfway across the world to protect their family.
“You must think what future will be in our child if she doesn’t have one of us — if she doesn’t have her father, her mother, both of us — what future will she have?” said Yurii.
With little say in the moving process — and knowledge of American geography — the Zinchenko’s were surprised to find out they were selected to move to Whitefish, Montana.
“My first thought…it’s better than Alaska!” added Yurii.
The move is made possible thanks to the Whitefish-based Mountain Haven Sponsorship Circle; a community-led program helping families settle into a new environment.
“Our goal is to empower and to integrate refugees into our community, and by doing so it benefits our community, it makes our community richer and it’s a way of honoring the needs of the refugees,” said Mountain Haven Sponsorship Circle board member Patsy Vargo.
WATCH: Mountain Haven Sponsorship Circle board member Patsy Vargo talks about Vitalina Zinchenko.
Vargo said those needs include housing, work, food, and community connection.
The Zinchenko’s are staying with Patsy in the meantime before moving into an unfurnished apartment in Whitefish come October.
“We’re reaching out to the community to help furnish that apartment because literally when Yurii and Vitalina and Anastasia came off the plane in Missoula, Yurii rolled up his suitcase, and he goes, this is our life,” said Patsy.
Yurii and Vitalina were both successful lawyers back in Ukraine, with vast knowledge of European and Eastern European law — and they’re hoping to share that knowledge with a potential employer.
“I think it would be interesting either for me — either for potential employers and companies — to have such a person who can help them in their practice,” added Yurii.
As they start to rebuild, the Zinchenko’s are thankful to have landed in Montana and thankful for the community they now call home.
“You know not every day you start a life from the beginning, so we had a life for 40 years, we made something and just one moment you should start all over again, white paper, so these people and community in Whitefish, they made a huge amount of work to do our life, just amazing." - Yurii Zinchenko
Those who would like to support the Zinchenko family financially can do so here.
A community meeting in support of the Zinchenko family is taking place on Sept. 28 at 6:30 p.m. in the LDS Church in Whitefish's gymnasium at 6330 US Highway 93.
Information for people who are looking to help out Ukraine residents
- Nova Ukraine: A Ukrainian NGO that provides humanitarian aid from food, to hygiene products, to clothing to people in need throughout Ukraine. https://novaukraine.org
- Ukrainian Red Cross: They provide humanitarian work around Ukraine including providing food and supplies to people, handling and coordinating blood donations, providing medical support to remote areas and displaced people. https://redcross.org.ua/en/donate/
- UNICEF: They are providing emergency response for children and work on rebuilding schools. https://www.unicef.org/ukraine/en/donate-now [unicef.org]