RALEIGH, N.C. — It’s been more than 18 months since Russia launched a full scale invasion into Ukraine, and a Triangle-based group is working to create a network of support to help Ukrainian refugees.
North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services says since July 2022, more than 1,300 Ukrainians have come to live in the state. However, the agency also says that number is likely higher because some people might not have arrived in connection with one of the state’s 15 resettlement agencies.
Ukraine House Carolina, a cultural center and Saturday school based in Raleigh, is now open. The goal is to make sure Ukrainians have a way to stay connected to their home country while educating others and advocating for Ukraine as the war with Russia continues.
“To hear what they would at a normal Ukrainian festival, kids saying versus, folk dance, folk music, it's like a little bit of heaven,” Lori Enskaya, an American-Ukrainian refugee, said.
There’s a bittersweet feeling among refugees as they honor and celebrate their Ukrainian culture.
“No matter what songs you're singing, what poems you read or what dances you dance, it is always very somber,” Olena Kozlova-Pates, the founder of Ukrainians in the Carolinas, said. “Ukraine, as we speak, is losing their best. As we speak, you know, half of Ukrainian regions are under attack.”
For the more than 1,300 Ukrainian refugees in North Carolina, the reality of what’s going on thousands of miles away in their homeland is always top of mind.
“Ukraine is going through a great struggle right now. But our people are very strong, and they have the will to fight. They're not going to give up,” Oleh Enskyi, a Ukrainian refugee, said.
It’s been two months since husband and wife, Oleh Enskyi and Lori Enskaya, came to North Carolina with their two teenage children.
“Finding a community where people understand you and you can help each other is priceless,” Enskaya said.
Pates says that’s what this new Ukrainian cultural center in Raleigh is trying to foster.
“Preserve our culture, to spread our culture, to teach our children to have that connection with Ukraine the best that we can, and also to educate our American friends about Ukraine, advocate for Ukraine,” Pates said. “Ukraine is going to be victorious, hopefully sooner than later. But until that happens, we're going to do the best that we can, and all that we can to help Ukraine there and to preserve Ukraine and Ukrainian culture here. It’s a designated space at Ridge Road Baptist Church, where those who share an unbreakable bond can gather and find resources. It’s a way to help them to both succeed here and stay connected to their roots."
As thankful as they are to be here, many dream of returning back to Ukraine one day.
“It's a somber, somber feeling. But it is always, with Ukrainians, it is always a feeling of hope,” Pates said.
The nonprofit Ukrainians in the Carolinas is also hosting a Ukrainian festival in Rockingham County at the end of October. Organizers say all of the festival proceeds will go towards Ukraine relief efforts including lifesaving tactical medical supplies.