Drinking cappuccinos in their sun-filled Everett apartment, life may look serene for Yosyp and Tetiana Lakatosh.
But fresh in their memories is that day one year ago, when life changed forever for millions of Ukrainian families, including the Lakatoshes.
At 5 a.m. on Feb. 24, 2022, Yosyp and Tetiana Lakatosh woke up to a phone call from Yosyp’s mother, telling them that Russia had invaded Ukraine and the war had started.
“At first we didn’t believe what my mom said,” Yosyp told KIRO Newsradio through an interpreter.
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Their home of Kharkiv was one of the first cities that Russia targeted. Yosyp said that he and his family had lived about 60 kilometers, or 40 miles, from the border with Russia.
“The Russian tanks came to Ukraine and started sending rockets,” he said.
The Lackatoshes had a bomb shelter in their backyard that they hid in with their three children — Yosyp Jr., now 11, Kateryna, now 8, and Davyd, now 5.
“We made it into a game, where we would say, ‘Oh, let’s go into the bomb shelter.’ We would do picnics and things like that,” Tetiana said through the translator. “The older child understood more, but for the little ones, we tried to make it a game.”
But soon, the Lakatosh family made the hardest decision imaginable.
“After we had to be in the bomb shelter underground for three days, that’s when we decided we needed to go,” Tetiana said.
But leaving would take lots of money — and funds were tight because the Lackatoshes had just finished renovating their new house.
That house sits behind in Kharkiv, housing refugees. They tell KIRO Newsradio it’s still standing, for now.
Taking only a change of clothes each and their identification documents, the family piled into Yosyp’s work van and drove to Moldova, in a caravan of other cars full of families for protection. They wrote “kids” on the side of the vehicles so they would not be attacked. Along the way, they saw cities that had been destroyed by bombs.
“I could see it with my eyes, but on this inside, I couldn’t believe it. How was this happening to my country?” Yosyp recalled. “It was kind of unexpected, because we were all just living our lives, and then the war started.”
After two days of driving, they arrived in neighboring Moldova, and from there, went on to Romania. In both countries, volunteers gave them a place to stay. The Lakatoshes knew they wanted to come to the United States because they had family here, including Tetiana’s father. But the American embassy in Bucharest told them that the next appointment to get a visa was six months away.
“We didn’t have the finances to find housing in Romania for that long,” Tetiana said.
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The next option was to fly to Mexico and come through the southern border into California.
The family made the 13-hour flight from Bucharest to Cancún, and then to Tijuana, where they walked across the Tijuana River to California. Upon arrival, ICE took them into detention for three days. After their release, the government tracked Yosyp with an ankle monitor for three weeks. The family members also had to turn in their passports. Even now, they must check in with the government if they want to leave the state, and must send photos during a weekly check-in to prove they are at home; KIRO Newsradio saw this weekly check-in occur during the interview.
From California, the Lackatoshes flew to Washington, where they have relatives. The Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, along with organizations like Volunteers of America and Refugee & Immigrant Services Northwest helped them to find housing in Everett. In Snohomish County alone, thousands of refugees like the Lackatoshes have been able to get a new home through these services.
At first, it was a tough transition for the kids, especially Kateryna. She missed the pet cats she had had to leave left behind with friends in Ukraine. In Kharkiv, Kateryna had taken part in extra-curricular activities, like piano lessons and art clubs. But here, she didn’t understand English and had a tough time making friends; there was also no money for music lessons.
“Every morning, she would get up in tears and say, ‘Take me back to the war. I’d rather live there in the bomb shelters,’” Tetiana said.
But the past year has been transformative for Kateryna.
“When we moved to these apartments [a couple of months after arriving in the U.S.], there are a lot of Russians and Ukrainians around here, so she at least has friends that she can understand and she can talk to,” Tetiana said.
She and Yosyp also got Tetiana a keyboard as a gift, so that she can practice the piano songs she remembers from back home.
Meanwhile, at school, Kateryna, Yosyp, Jr., and Davyd are thriving at their English classes. Tetiana and Yosyp laughed that the kids have passed the two of them up with their English skills.
“The kids get to go to a group for 45 minutes every day, where the teacher works with them on learning English, how to pronounce things,” Tetiana said. “The teachers themselves are very nice — they try to help the children find friends.”
The kids are also taking part in extra-curricular activities at school, like swim lessons and the soccer team, as well as events like family game nights. Tetiana said she and Yosyp are impressed by the Mukilteo School District.
And even though Katerina cannot get a cat here because of the current apartment’s rules, she gets to see her pets virtually through video calls with the friends in Ukraine who are watching the cats. Her parents got her a stuffed animal cat so she can have something furry to cuddle; they laughed that she carries around the cat so much, her teacher told her not to bring it to school anymore because she was playing with it instead of paying attention.
For the adults, having a tight-knit community through relatives, their church group, and other Ukrainian refugees in English classes at Everett Community College has helped them to feel at home. Tetiana’s sisters and Yosyp’s mother have since immigrated, so they have lots of family here. Yosyp and Tetiana have not yet gotten social security numbers or visas that will allow them to work, but they are hopeful the paperwork will soon be processed. Yosyp wants to translate his Ukrainian engineering diploma here so that he can find work in a similar field.
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In the meantime, they are trying to embrace life in their new home. Their favorite part of living Washington is the natural beauty. The family frequently goes on hikes.
“We love the nature — that we can go as a family to see waterfalls,” Yosyp said. “The kids love to go to Mukilteo, to the ocean here. The kids love to feed the seagulls and look at the crabs and the whales.”
They also like the family-oriented spirit of the culture here.
The Lakatoshes hope to go back to Ukraine one day, but they do not know when it might be safe to do so. And they know if they do return, it will be a different country.
“When we left Ukraine, that was the old Ukraine. Even if we get to go back, it will never be the same. Things have changed,” Tetiana said. “And the people who lived through the war, they won’t be the same either. Even our own kids, with what they survived … that chunk of their childhood is gone. They’re kind of grown-up now. And the kids who are in Ukraine, they don’t really have a childhood.”
That is why the family remains eternally grateful for the help and support they have received from volunteers here in their new home.
“We are very thankful for the U.S. and Washington state. [If it weren’t for their help], we would be sitting in bomb shelters,” Yosyp said.
If you would like to support Ukraine, the Ukrainian Association of Washington State, which represents more than 100,000 Washington residents with Ukrainian heritage, is taking donations to send medical and tactical supplies to Ukrainain fighters. Volunteers of America Western Washington and Refugee & Immigrant Services Northwest help Ukrainian refugees to find shelter here in Washington.
You can also show support through events. The Ukrainian Association will be hosting a rally at noon on Saturday at Seattle Center to commemorate one year since the invasion.
In Seattle, Mayor Bruce Harrell declared February 24 the “Day of Solidarity with The People of Ukraine.” Many prominent buildings in the city, such as the Space Needle, T-Mobile Park, Lumen Field, and the Columbia Center, will be lighting up in blue and yellow, the colors of the Ukrainian flag, along with other landmarks around the world this weekend.