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A conversation with a Ukrainian war refugee and the American who's sponsoring her


It's been almost one year since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine. Tens of thousands of people have died. Ukraine has resisted. No end to the war is in sight. Millions of Ukrainians have been driven from their homes and more than 100,000 have sought refuge here in the U.S. Among them is Svitlana Yavenko, along with her husband and their 9-year-old son. Her family arrived in Atlanta last September as part of a program run by Welcome.US, a humanitarian organization that helps Americans sponsor families to come here. And we're delighted to say we're joined now by Svitlana and her American sponsor, Shane Little. Thanks so much, both of you, for being with us.

SHANE LITTLE: Thank you for having us.


SIMON: Let me begin with you, Ms. Yavenko. I gather you're from Zaporizhzhia - pretty famous place around the world because of the nuclear plant there. Tell us what your life was like a year ago when the war began.

YAVENKO: Yeah, my city is near the front line and part of my region is under occupation. The Russians - they constantly attack my city with missiles. My neighborhood in November last year destroyed, and my home too. That's why I think that I can't return because I don't have home in my own home city.

SIMON: What led you, Shane Little, to want to do this, to feel so deeply about a war that was going on thousands of miles away that you wanted to make a home for strangers?

LITTLE: My mom and I are doing this jointly. My mom wanted to have an additional purpose. For me, it was more historical. I know before World War II there were lots of opportunities for Americans to bring people over. And it didn't really happen much. And this was a chance maybe to improve history and be a part of something that was going to make a big, meaningful impact to not just a family, but to a nation that is, for all purposes, standing up to fascism.

SIMON: Svitlana, may I ask how your son is doing? He's 9 years old, I'm told.

YAVENKO: Yeah, he is great. He go to school, and he really love to be here because he - in Ukraine, he was afraid. I think that he don't want to speak about that. He just live his life now.

SIMON: And your husband? How are you and your husband doing?

YAVENKO: I think great because we are working now. Currently, I'm a case manager at U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants in Atlanta. And I think that my husband - he is also happy to be here and working and live our new life.

SIMON: Shane Little, what can you do? What do you see it to be your responsibility?

LITTLE: So when they came over in September, the services that the city of Atlanta provides has been phenomenal. We went to the school the very next day for Kostyk (ph), and he started the following Monday.

SIMON: Kostyk is their 9-year-old son.

LITTLE: Yes. And in the meantime, my mother and I have been providing for housing and anything else that they need during their stay. And we're very, very pleased with the progress that they're making here.

SIMON: Svitlana, do you see your family ever returning to Ukraine?

YAVENKO: I think that no. Because we don't have a home now. And I don't know when the war ends. That's why I think that we started a new life in the U.S. and with the help of wonderful American family. We really love them.

SIMON: May I ask - we're just about at the first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. How do you hope the war ends?

YAVENKO: As soon as possible. Because I can't wait for our victory.

SIMON: But you used the word victory. You want a Ukrainian victory?

YAVENKO: Yeah. Yeah. Because our Ukrainian people - they are really brave and strong. And I really love Ukraine and the Ukrainian people.

SIMON: Svitlana Yavenko, who is now in Atlanta, a refugee - she and her family from Ukraine and her American sponsor, Shane Little. I want to thank you both very much for being with us. Thank you for making time for us.

YAVENKO: Thank you.

LITTLE: Thank you.

SIMON: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.