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American family welcomes Ukrainians to Thanksgiving table

Michelle Franzen/ABC News

(DARIAN, CONNECTICUT) — Susan and Ted Holmes opened up their home to Liudmyla and Volodya Stepnyk and their three children, Yulia, Dmytro and Veronika, under the Biden administration’s “Uniting for Ukraine” resettlement program.

The Ukrainian family will celebrate their first Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S., gathering around the table and learning about the American tradition and foods. Susan Helms says they feel blessed they can share both cultures with her serving up a dinner at her home — pulling pockets of steamed stuffed cabbage out of a pot on a chilly night in Darien, Connecticut.

“Should we go get our plates and get our halupki?” Susan Helms asked.

Susan Helms says Liudmyla Stepnyk was up late making the dish. It is one of the Ukrainian traditions Liudmyla Stepnyk and her family find comfort in after fleeing their home in Western Ukraine when Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

Liudmyla Stepnyk practices some of her English, saying the pockets of cabbage are filled with rice, meat and are boiled. Susan Helms say they look like little presents.

Around the dinner table, the spirit of thanks and giving is felt with the sharing of meals.

The Stepnyk family arrived in August and are still getting used to life in America. Ted Holmes says it’s been a big change for he and his wife, who were empty nesters. He says both families share responsibilities in terms of cooking, which is a mix of Ukrainian and American food.

Ted Helms joked to ABC News that he and Volodya Stepnyk “just eat and show up.”

Susan Helms says she was determined to help once the war began and through her search was able to find relatives in Ukraine and decided to sponsor them to come to the U.S. She and Volodya Stepnyk connected on Facebook.

Under Ukraine’s martial law exemption, men who are raising three children or more can receive a deferment. Volodya Stepnyk says he made the decision to go to ensure the safety of his children. Yulia Stepnyk, who is the oldest of three children says her family first fled to Poland before connecting with Susan Helms and getting approval to come to the U.S.

Under the “Uniting for Ukraine” program, American-based citizens can financially sponsor displaced Ukrainians who are still outside the U.S. They apply to receive a temporary two-year humanitarian live and work visa and go through a vetting process. Susan Helms says once the family arrived, the kids were enrolled in school.

Yulia Stepnyk is 17 years old and in her last year of high school. Her siblings are in middle school and have already celebrated their birthdays in the U.S.

Volodya and Liudmyla Stepnyk say they are trying to make the best life they can for their children and are grateful they could come to America.

All say they are finding peace –something they haven’t felt since leaving their home but still miss the life they left behind.

Yulia Stepnyk has embraced the message of this holiday and said at first it felt strange coming to a new country, but she says she is no longer fearful.

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