Twice displaced, a Ukrainian family finds support and friendship in New York

Stories of Welcome

November 21, 2023


Sponsorship enables a New York mom to make a direct and positive difference

“At least I could make a difference in one person’s life,” Jennifer Schuttig said.

While vacationing with family in Canada during winter break in 2022, Jennifer watched the horrors unfold on the news as Russia invaded Ukraine. Jennifer and her husband have a soft spot for Eastern Europe—the couple from Hoosick Falls, New York, had gotten engaged in Russia—and she recognized a unique way that she could help.

The Schuttig family researched Welcome.US as a way to directly help those displaced from Ukraine.

Not long ago, Jennifer lost some of her mobility due to health reasons and sometimes relies on a wheelchair when she leaves the house. “I was feeling I had nothing left to give to society,” she said. “I felt like a burden and not a contributor anymore.” But supporting refugees, especially from a place she held close to her heart, could make a direct and positive impact.

While they were still on vacation, Jennifer began researching ways to help online. She discovered Welcome Connect, a platform built to offer newcomers and potential sponsors a safe way to chat and connect. Jennifer quickly signed up, jumping into the online trainings from her phone, and before she knew it, several families reached out to chat.

Jennifer was drawn to Viktoria and Sergey. She was excited to learn that their children were around the same age—both had 14-year-old sons, and Jennifer also had a 12-year-old daughter. And Viktoria’s family truly needed a safe place to call home—this was not the first time their family was displaced.

Jennifer matched with Viktoria and Sergey on Welcome Connect, a platform to securely connect potential sponsors with families searching for safety in the U.S., and soon after welcomed their family to New York.

Originally from the Donetsk region of Ukraine, the family fled to Kiev in 2014 to escape Russian occupation. They left with only a few suitcases and their cat, giving their apartment away for free to other families who had lost their homes in the conflict. Viktoria continued working as an accountant, but Sergey was forced to restart his career from scratch.

Fast forward to 2022—once again, the family found themselves fleeing their home because of Russian aggression. Viktoria woke to a call from a colleague whose neighborhood had been bombed overnight, and then her employer asked her to spend the first day of the war transferring two months of salary payments to those who needed to flee. That same day, her husband put gas in the car, packed their suitcases once again, and drove the family across the border into Romania.

For several months, they traveled through Europe—from Romania to Greece to Poland—eventually settling in the United Kingdom. But the family hoped to find safety in the United States, soon signing up on Welcome Connect where they found Jennifer.

Viktoria and Sergey's family fled their home in 2014 and again in 2022 because of Russian aggression. When Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, Viktoria and Sergey traveled with their family through Europe searching for safety.
The two families bonded during many activities, from making s'mores to tasting maple syrup to family camping trips.

Viktoria and Jennifer hoped their sons would get along and learn from each other. And even though Jennifer was initially wary of taking in Bonapart, the family cat, she eventually warmed up to the idea of hosting that important family member.

After the families agreed on sponsorship, Jennifer and her husband began weekend “work parties” as they prepared for Viktoria’s family. They tore down a wall in their house to enlarge a room, and Jennifer moved her bedroom to the dining room to make space for the new family. Jennifer’s son even prepared a room with neon lights and extra toys for Victoria’s son, Nikita.

Shortly after Viktoria and her family arrived in the U.S., both families celebrated Independence Day with a visit to the Statue of Liberty.

Just before July 4, 2022, Jennifer drove to Newark airport to welcome Viktoria’s family. The two families spent their first days together exploring the sights of New York City, including the Statue of Liberty and Times Square.

“I feel like I'm making a difference in her life and her family's life,” Jennifer said. “She thanks me so much whenever I talk to her. I can tell she is truly grateful.”

That support surely helped set up Victoria’s family for success. Within six weeks, Viktoria was working as an accountant for a local Subaru dealership and Sergey had a job as a cook. They are thriving in their own apartment, just down the street from Jennifer, and Nikita started high school in the fall.

The two families have bonded over many “firsts” together, from tasting maple syrup to family camping trips at Lake George to cooking meals together. And Jennifer is already considering sponsoring another family.

Hear more about how Jennifer connected with Welcome.US, which she shared during a recent interview with WAMC Northeast Public Radio.

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