When the war in Ukraine began, the Plegutsa family lived in Vyzhnytsia, a small city near the Carpathian Mountains. While their hometown was not initially targeted by fighting, Volodymyr and his wife, Victoria,saw more and more people arriving from regions under assault.

“Living here in Vyzhnytsia, and having a small house, a sort of summer cottage, we tried to help everyone arriving from areas that had suffered more,” says Victoria. She volunteered at an old cinema building converted to a shelter. “I remember there were a lot of people from the east, and from Kyiv. We wanted to help them.”

Victoria and Volodymyr, who was unable to serve in the military due to health problems, began hosting families themselves, “We helped some people who had arrived from Berdiansk—a mom, dad, and two young children. They had lost their home. They spent a night at our place.”

As the war crept closer to the Plegutsas’ town, it dawned on Volodymyr and Victoria that a difficult decision loomed: to stay or to leave home.

Volodymyr, Victoria and Neal
Volodymyr (55), Victoria (54) and Neal, (16) spent time at their sponsor's home in Wichita, Kansas, before moving into a permanent home the IRC helped them secure.
Photo: Andrew Oberstadt for the IRC

“Twelve months ago, our family life was measured, calm, and peaceful,” Volodymyr says. “These 12 months have turned the life of our family on its head. I could never have imagined at some time I would make a decision to leave Vyzhnytsia for an indefinite period.”

While heartbreaking to move so far away from their eldest adult children, who live elsewhere in Europe, Volodymyr and Victoria wanted their youngest, 16-year-old Neal, to grow up normally, away from conflict and violence.

“From childhood, from the age of 10, Neal dreamed all the time,” recalls Volodymyr. “He was preparing himself. He had saved all his money—the money I had given him for school. When asked where he would like to study, he would answer with a smile, ‘America.’”

The Plegutsas are among the nearly 275,000 Ukrainian refugees resettled in the United States since February 2022, their particular sponsorship arranged through the Uniting for Ukraine program. The IRC office in Wichita, Kansas, their new home, helped coordinate their arrival and assisted them to secure housing, access language training, and enroll Neal in school, all part of the IRC’s resettlement program.

Their journey to the United States went smoothly thanks to Neal, whose English skills helped Volodymyr and Victoria navigate every step of the way, including speaking to border agents and customs officers.

Galyna, IRC community coordinator, welcomes Volodymyr.
Galyna, IRC community coordinator, welcomes Volodymyr, her friend and client from Ukraine who just landed in Wichita.
Photo: Ivonne Conover for the IRC

“Without a hitch, we boarded the aircraft and flew to you, where you absolutely shocked us at the airport with your welcome,” says Volodymyr, talking about the IRC staff who greeted them in Chicago, where their plane landed. “We never would have thought that strangers, people who we had never seen…would be so friendly and pleasant in their dealings with us. We have arrived here as a family.” 

When they arrived, the Plegutsa family were hosted by an American family, just as they had hosted fellow Ukrainians back home. They stayed with them for three weeks before they found their own, permanent place with the support of the IRC. We continue to help the family as they enroll for social services and rebuild their lives.

The Plegutsa family share a meal together with their sponsor family.
The Plegutsa family share a meal together with their sponsor family.
Photo: Andrew Oberstadt for the IRC

For Neal, the move has been life changing. His parents notice a huge difference in him—he’s back to his lively self, no longer anxious and reserved.

“I will say to you as his Dad that, having arrived here and spent a mere two days, I don’t recognize my child,” remarked Volodymyr shortly after arriving in the U.S. “He is outgoing and communicative. He...well, I think he’s happy that he has found that dream he has been longing for.”

The determined teenager continues to dream big. “I’m thinking of medical school, and maybe in the future if I have the opportunity, I would love to help Ukrainians. It’s impossible for me to forget Ukraine.”

Says Neal, “It still feels like a dream. Even when I was on the plane, I never thought that it’s really happening…. I hope that we will settle in here and begin to live again.”

How the IRC helps

The Plegutsa family is enrolled in the IRC’s resettlement program, which helps refugees integrate and access services during their first months in the U.S. We help with making medical appointments and booking immunizations as well as  enrolling children in school and arranging English classes for adults. The IRC also provides cash assistance and rent and utility assistance, and assists in searches for long-term housing and full-time employment.