Julie Tryukhan’s words were powerful, emotional, full of love, relief and appreciation. There were some tears shed as she spoke. What she has done for her family required courage, determination and grit, moving 5,258 miles from home.
Here are the words she shared to a packed house of Rotary Club of Farragut members and guests yesterday at Fox Den Country Club: “…This is now our hometown, and we have been dreaming about coming here for many years. I do not feel now like a stranger or a refugee. My kids are safe. No more sirens, no more hearing guns and bombs and having to hide in basements. I feel comfort here, and it warms my heart.”
Five months ago, our club and others to be named began the process of helping Tryukhan leave her lifelong home in Ukraine. To leave her husband, her parents and two brothers behind in Crimea. To trade her 32 years as a Ukrainian to move to the United States – to Farragut – to assure her young family a future.
Tryukhan and her children, along with two very special and important players in this story – Dinah and Bill Vogel – had planned to be at yesterday’s meeting in person. That changed Tuesday afternoon when Bill tested positive for Covid. So, they were with us yesterday on Zoom from the Vogels’ home. Tryukhan’s husband, Dima, joined the online call from somewhere in Ukraine. He is there in the Ukrainian Army fighting Russians.
“My family is safe and I thank all of you,” he said. “Thanks to the Vogel family for accepting my family, to the Rotarians in Slovakia. I have not seen my family in six months now. I am helping protect my country from the Russian oppression, and after our Ukrainian victory, I will come to join them there.”
Six days ago, Tryukhan and her two children arrived at McGhee Tyson Airport – Mark, who turned 4 yesterday, and Polina, 17 months. They had flown all day from Prague, to Amsterdam, to Atlanta and then to Knoxville. They were delayed Thursday in Atlanta by U.S. Immigration and Customs and had to spend the night there before arriving here Friday afternoon.
Another hero in this story is a young Ukrainian man now living in Toronto – Oleksandr “Alex” Shukov. He is a friend of the Tryukhans (and Mark’s godfather) who put his life on hold several weeks ago, bought a ticket and flew to Slovakia to offer his assistance to fly with them all the way to Knoxville.
Tryukhan was here once before as a Rotary Youth Exchange (RYE) student, 16 then, in 2007-2008. She spent the year studying at Webb School. And for most of that year the Vogels were her host parents. And today they are her sponsors, and she is living with them – again. Dinah worked with Tryukhan a great deal, filling out applications and finally she and her children were cleared to come to the U.S. under the Uniting for Ukraine (U4U) process. That program allows them to remain in the U.S. for up to two years. Tryukhan says they will have to make decisions about what to do then. If Russia wins the war, she says she will not want to live under Russian rule.
Professionally, Tryukhan works as a human resources employee for Uvoteam, an information technology company based in Ukraine’s capital city, Kiev. Her husband also works for the same company in marketing, and that is where they met. She is working on projects for the company now part-time.
In mid-March, Tryukhan, her children, and her mother left Kiev and remained in Uzhhorod (Ukrainian city at the border) waiting for documents. With the help of Rotarians in Zilina, Slovaki, they traveled and lived there until making the move last week.
“I plan to be around here for quite a while now. … this is my Rotary family,” she said. “I thank all of the members of your Rotary club for their help and love and making us part of your family. It’s so heartwarming and wonderful.”
Tom King has served at newspapers in Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and California and was the editor of two newspapers. Suggest future stories at [email protected] or call him at 865-659-3562.