Muscatine welcomes Ukrainian refugees and more global guests

Margaret Hurlbert
Margaret Hurlbert
Margaret Hurlbert works as the Editor of Discover Muscatine Newspaper.

Muscatine Living

MUSCATINE, Iowa–After much anticipation, the Muscatine Action Committee for Ukraine welcomed its first refugees to Muscatine Friday, Sept. 9 with a potluck dinner at Trinity Episcopal Church in Muscatine. Serhii and Svitlana Luka, along with their twin daughters, Vira and Nadiia Luka, arrived to cheering and renditions of both the United State and Ukrainian national anthems played by local Muscatine brass players. In recent weeks, other community partners have worked alongside the Muscatine Action Committee for Ukraine to offer assistance to other international refugees and visitors seeking housing, work, and education. The dinner also honored Olga and Sviatoslav Vasylinenko of Ukraine; Ketsia Faraja of the Democratic Republic of the Congo; and Pascal Ramadhani, a Congolese refugee born and raised in Tanzania.

Originally from a small village near both Kyiv and Bucha in Ukraine, the Lukas fled their home when heavy shelling by the Russian Army destroyed the retail warehouse that Serhii Luka drove a truck for and made it difficult to safely move around the city. After finding three vans to transport people wanting to flee the region, the Lukas drove for many hours down back roads to avoid getting shot at by the Russian army on major highways. The Lukas and those traveling with them eventually reached Lviv, where the Lukas found directions to a refugee camp that could accommodate families with children. When they wanted to go to the United States, Sergei Sviderski, one of the people the Lukas helped escape, put them in touch with his friend and member of the Muscatine Action Committee for Ukraine Walter Conlon, who assisted them in getting visas through the Uniting for Ukraine program. Now safely in Muscatine, Serhii and Svitlana Luka will seek working visas and their daughters will attend Susan Clark Junior High School. “It’s like a dream,” said Irina Shevchencko, translating for the Lukas.

Only a few days earlier, Olga Vasylinenko and her son, Sviatoslav Vasylinenko arrived in Muscatine. The pair of Ukrainian refugees fled their home and stayed for a time in Alaska before getting to come to Muscatine. After leaving the dangers of war torn Ukraine behind, the Vasylinenkos feel relieved to settle in a peaceful city. “It feels safe here,” said Olga Vasylinenko through translator Irina Mealy. Olga Vasylinenko intends to get permission to work and to find an apartment for her and her 15-year-old son, who will enroll at Muscatine High School.

Because of their contact with World Relief of the Quad Cities, the Muscatine Action Committee for Ukraine and some of their other supporters in the community had the chance to bring two other international guests to Muscatine for a time. Faraja, a recent graduate of Augustana College with a bachelors of arts in international business and political science, intends to take a job with the International Relief Committee in Chicago. However, a clerical error in her visa paper work caused her to have to reapply, preventing her from starting her job right away. While she waits for her visa application to go through, Faraja will babysit in Muscatine and explore the city. So far, she has most enjoyed getting to know people. “They’re a great community and very friendly,” she said.

Ramadhani came to the United States in his teens and graduated from Union Township High School in Moline, Illinois. Now a caseworker for World Relief, Ramadhani hopes to continue his education, first by earning an associates degree in sociology at Muscatine Community College and then by transferring to a four year institution. Now in Muscatine, Ramadhani enjoys that, “it’s not too crowded, and the people are very nice and welcoming.”

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