Ukrainian Student Finds Refuge in Chicago Area Amid Continued Fighting in Homeland

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Less than a week after she fled the fighting in Ukraine, Sofia Kolesnyk is safe with friends in a Chicago suburb, keeping up with the news from her homeland as fighting intensifies and the death toll among civilians increases.

Kolesnyk, who is now staying with friends of her family in suburban Park Ridge, says that she got a call from her father while she was attending Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv.

“My heart is bleeding for this news,” she said. “He said ‘Sofia, you need to run away from Ukraine, and pick up clothes and go away.’”

Kolesnyk says she is the only member of her family who had a visa, leaving the 20-year-old with a heart-wrenching choice. After encouragement from her father, she left her parents, siblings, her classmates and her boyfriend behind, beginning a long journey out of the country.

She says that two women drove her, along with eight other women and children, through the country, taking more than two days to reach the border with Poland.

“They slept maybe 13 minutes,” she said.

Once in Poland, Kolesnyk and the other refugees went their separate ways. She found a flight to Chicago, where she was able to find a family friend named Luba Andrus that agreed to take her in.

“He (Sofia’s father) said ‘can you take her,’” Andrus recalled. “I said ‘I’ll take your whole family!’”

Kolesnyk, who is still wearing the same trenchcoat that her father wore when he was in his 20s, says she is worrying non-stop about her family, and about their country, during the Russian invasion.

“I can’t believe that it’s true, but I know that it is true,” she said. “And it’s hard to understand.”

Even in the face of an incredibly tough fight, she says she still has hope that Ukraine can prevail over Russia in the conflict.

“Ukrainian and world people can do this,” she said. “They are so brave and they love freedom.”

The Andrus family has helped Sofia register as a refugee, and is helping her to settle into a situation she never could have dreamed that she’d find herself in.

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