BALBOA PARK (CBSLA) — A Ukrainian family, forced to flee their homeland as fighting broke out when Russian troops began to invade, is now looking for a new life in America.
Julia Patyaka, her two children and her mother-in-law left behind her husband, father and son in search of safety. A professional, he had to stay behind to aid locals in his hometown, “cooking for moms in shelters, for our army,” as Julia said.
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“My children started to cry,” she said. “They understood something wrong was going on. There were explosions—one, then the second one, the third one.”
The two have been in touch over the last three weeks, as he constantly updates her with information and images of the war torn country.
With the family’s safety in mind, the two decided that the best option would be for them to leave while he stayed behind and carried out his duty to his country.
She spoke with CBS reporters Friday where she detailed her final moments in Ukraine.
They had about 30 minutes to pack what they could before leaving Kiev, shortly after bombs fell on the outskirts of Ukraine’s most-populated city.
The four refugees fled over the Ukrainian border, driving for two days straight until they reached Slovakia — 1,083 kilometers, or 673 miles away. They abandoned the car there, jumping on the first train they could find to Germany before heading to the United States.
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It’s been less than a week since they arrived, staying with some relatives who live in the San Fernando Valley and searching for a bit of normalcy and a new life in a foreign land.
The family isn’t alone in trying to keep a straight-face for the children, as flight attendants on their flight to America gave them some toys to entertain them in the most crucial moment in their young lives, interacting with the children to distract them from their new harsh reality.
But as usual, children understand more than adults realize, and her son has taken on the role of family protector, fulfilling a solemn promise he made to his father before leaving.
Julia described a conversation she had with her son, where he told her, “’Mom, I will help you. Don’t cry. Dad told me to help you.’”
Julia is now attempting to enroll the six-year-old in an English-speaking school in the area, while she pursues a similar career to what she had in Ukraine — photography.
“For me, it’s very hard to ask for help,” she continued. “All my life I was self-employed.”
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They aren’t sure if they’ll ever be able to return home now, especially since they aren’t sure if their house is still standing.