Compelled to sponsor once again, a Raleigh resident welcomes Ukrainians to her community

Stories of Welcome

July 24, 2023


Welcome Connect match creates a pathway to safety

When the bombs began falling outside their home in Ukraine, Viktoriia knew it was time for their family to say good-bye to their beloved country and search for safety. What she didn’t know was that after several attempts to find safety for her family, she’d make an online connection leading them 5,000 miles away to Raleigh, N.C.

Helen Krauss was that online connection. Helen is no stranger to sponsoring refugees. As she watched the war unfold in Ukraine, she knew she could help.

Ivan and Zakhar share hugs with Helen in the safety of her Raleigh neighborhood.

Fifteen years ago, a friend who was working in Iraq asked Helen to sponsor two Iraqi women coming to the U.S. Helen helped the women rebuild their lives here and has continued a long-lasting relationship with them. “They became like my daughters. It was the best thing I’ve ever done in my life,” she said.

So the day that the news broke about the Russian invasion, Helen eagerly began searching for a way to support displaced Ukrainians. As a recent retiree, she had the time and space to share with an incoming family. She signed up on the Welcome Connect platform as soon as she heard about it.

Viktoriia and her children—Ivan, 5, and Zakhar, 3—had hastily gathered their belongings in their car and relocated to Poland, while her husband Igor remained in Ukraine. When Uniting for Ukraine was announced, she began searching for a sponsor who could help her family safely relocate to the U.S.

“We adore our country, our home, our family,” Viktoriia said. “Most of all, we want to live our previous happy life. But unfortunately, I understand that I have to think about the children first: their safety and their future.”

Initially, Viktoriia was not optimistic about matching with a sponsor on Welcome Connect. For two agonizing months, she tried to find a sponsor or work with a church group on social media, but had no luck. She believed most private sponsors would support an individual, but could not accommodate a family.

Then she sent a message to Helen on Welcome Connect. Shocked, Viktoriia received a response. As they chatted on the platform, Viktoriia was drawn to Helen’s warmth and kindness. She also loved Helen’s description of Raleigh—a community that sounded safe, welcoming, and supportive.

After matching on Welcome Connect, Helen agreed to sponsor Viktoriia and her family in Raleigh.
Now far from the threats of war, Viktoriia and her boys frequently play soccer in the backyard.
We were looking for a family-oriented, safe place, so I have learned that Raleigh is the best place for us.
Viktoriia, Ukrainian newcomer

Helen agreed to sponsor, and she and Viktoriia completed the necessary paperwork and made travel arrangements. When Viktoriia and her family arrived in Raleigh at the end of 2022, they were welcomed with open arms and abundant community support.

“I’ve been amazed by the outpouring of support from book clubs and in the neighborhood,” Helen said. “Somebody I hardly know bought two brand new car seats.”

Viktoriia and her family are now settled in Helen’s home. Zakhar is enrolled in day care, while Ivan started kindergarten and karate lessons. Viktoriia began working and Igor is taking ESL classes.

Safely in the U.S., the boys are now enrolled in day care and school. They play pick up sticks, soccer, and Ivan started karate lessons.

Although they miss their home, family, and previous life, Viktoriia, Igor, and their kids are now far from the threats of daily sirens, missile attacks, and Russian aggression. Together in Raleigh, they enjoy cooking, playing soccer, and games of pick up sticks.

Helen can’t think of a more fulfilling outcome. “[Sponsorship] has been an experience of a lifetime—rich and very rewarding. I would support anyone who wanted to get involved in this way and encourage them to dive in!”

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