American family welcomes Ukrainians to the Thanksgiving table

Susan and Ted Holmes opened their home to Liudmyla and Volodya Stepnyk and their three children Yulia, Dmytro and Veronika as part of the Biden administration’s Uniting for Ukraine resettlement program.

The Ukrainian family will celebrate their first Thanksgiving holiday in the US, gather around the table and learn about American tradition and food. Susan Helms says they feel blessed to be able to share both cultures when she serves dinner at her home — pulling bags of steamed stuffed cabbage out of a pot on a chilly night in Darien, Connecticut.

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

Susan Helms says Liudmyla Stepnyk got up late and prepared the dish. It is one of the Ukrainian traditions in which Liudmyla Stepnyk and her family find solace after fleeing their homeland in western Ukraine when Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

Practicing some of her English, Liudmyla Stepnyk says that the cabbage pockets are stuffed with rice and meat and cooked. Susan Helms says they look like little presents.

Around the dining table, the spirit of gratitude and giving is felt as meals are shared.

PHOTO: (Back Lr) Ted Helms, Susan Helms, Dmytro Stepnyk and Volodymyr Stepnyk (pink) Veronika (pink shirt), Liudmyla, (white shirt) and Yulia are pictured in this undated photo.

(Back Lr) Ted Helms, Susan Helms, Dmytro Stepnyk and Volodymyr Stepnyk (pink) Veronika (pink shirt), Liudmyla, (white shirt) and Yulia are pictured in this undated photo.

Michelle Franzen/ABC News

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 him 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 as soon as the war started and through her search she was able to find relatives in Ukraine and decided to sponsor them to come to the US. She and Volodya Stepnyk were connected through Facebook.

Under the exception of Ukraine’s martial law, men raising three or more children can get a reprieve. Volodya Stepnyk says he made the decision to ensure the safety of his children. Yulia Stepnyk, the eldest of three children, says her family first fled to Poland before she connected with Susan Helms and received approval to come to the US

Through the Uniting for Ukraine program, US residents can provide financial assistance to displaced Ukrainians who are still outside the US. They apply for a temporary two-year humanitarian life and work visa and go through a verification process. Susan Helms says when the family arrived the children were enrolled in the school.

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

Volodya and Liudmyla Stepnyk say that they are trying to make the best possible life for their children and are grateful that they were able to come to America.

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

Yulia Stepnyk has embraced the message of this holiday, saying that coming to a new country felt strange at first, but she says she is no longer afraid.

“I’m grateful to everyone around me,” Yulia Stepnyk told ABC News. “Because you have come to another country, to the stranger’s house, and now that we have these meals. I just feel this love.”

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