Jan 28, 2023 6:43 PM

Embracing America: War refugees call Burlington home

Posted Jan 28, 2023 6:43 PM

Above:  Ukrainian refugees Nina Rozum, her grandson Yehor, and her daughter Viktoriia, pose for a photograph in Burlington. The family left war-torn Ukraine for a new life in Burlington. Photo/John Lovretta

By William Smith

It’s been about a year since Russia invaded Ukraine.

An eternity for Ukrainian refugee Viktoriia Rozum, her 15-year-old son Yehor Rozum, and Viktoriia’s mother Nina Rozum who were looking for a way out of war-torn Ukraine.

“I had a good job in Ukraine. I worked in a commercial bank, my mother worked in a state kindergarten, and my son studied at school and had good grades. My son knows history well and participated in school Olympiads,” Viktoriia said.

The Rozum family found their refuge from the war in Burlington, arriving to stay with a host family last summer. They stayed with another host family after that and just moved into their own apartment a few weeks ago.

Because of her previous employment as a civil servant in Ukraine’s treasury, Viktoriia fears she and her family could be a target if they go back. Even if they did go back, their home in Ukraine has been bombed relentlessly.

“Unfortunately, in my region in the Donetsk region, 80 percent of the entire infrastructure has been destroyed,” Viktoriia said, tears forming in her eyes as she spoke into a translation app. 

“Where my house was, unfortunately, now there is no way to restore all the destruction brought on by the war. 

Recovery will take 10 years or more.

Adapting to America

Due to his youth and previous exposure to English, Yehor was the best English speaker in the family — and still is. But his syntax and word recognition were rough, and he would often say “I understand” when he was confused by an English speaker.

In the months since then, Yehor’s English has improved exponentially. 

He currently attends Burlington High School as well as ESL (English as a Second Language) classes, and never uses a translator app. 

He can hold a conversation with friends and strangers and has purposefully avoided using translation apps. He figures relying on the program would only stunt his understanding of English.

“I want to learn English quickly,” he said.

His mother and grandmother are learning too. They both take ESL classes at Southeastern Community College, and Viktoriia can communicate much better than when she arrived.

She used some of her new English (sans translation app) to make Yehor blush as he was talking about all the new friends he has made at school.

“He has a girlfriend,” Viktoriia said with a smile.

Yehor immediately waved his arms to indicate that it was not true, saying: “We just talk a lot.”

Learning the culture

Yehor is eager to soak in as much American culture as he can. He still likes to talk to his friends in Ukraine nearly every day, but he’s started to settle into his new life.  Now he wants a job, as soon as possible. Nights, weekends — it doesn’t matter to Yehor.

“I would like to be able to help support my family,” he said.

Yehor isn’t the only one looking. Viktoriia has already had one job interview at Shearer’s Foods and is set up for a second interview. Viktoriia will be taking her driving test next week, which will allow her to become more self-sufficient in getting to work and shopping. 

Above: Viktoriia Rozum uses a translation app on her phone to express her gratitude to the people of Burlington who have helped her family after fleeing war-torn Ukraine. Photo/John Lovretta

A loose but dedicated group of churches and volunteers have been helping the Rozums for the past few months, providing transportation, necessities, and other items. 

The volunteers also helped the Rozums financially and physically, helping to pay for the apartment and helping them move in. Viktoriia said she can’t show enough gratitude for all they have done.

“I want to say that the kind and considerate people of Burlington and their friends from all over America have helped me throughout our stay in Burlington,” she said.

Viktoriia and her family are all in for America. They consider this their new home, and they want to contribute. They appreciate the support America has shown Ukraine.

“I consider it my duty to work, pay taxes, and be a full resident of the USA. I want to thank every citizen of the United States for supporting my country. In the near future, I will be able to continue to help my country and support my family and friends in Ukraine, who cannot leave my homeland,” Viktoriia said.

There’s still more to do before reaching that point. The new apartment has neither a television nor internet access, and the locals who have been helping them would like to get a TV in there to further help the Rozums with their English assimilation. Internet access is even more vital since Yehor needs it to complete his homework assignments.

Those who would like to help the Rozums can contribute to a GoFundMe page, which can be found on the GoFundMe website by searching for “Rozum Family.”

In the meantime, the Rozums keep busy, occasionally killing time by playing chess. It’s a family tradition that started with Yehor’s grandmother Nina and was passed on to him through his mother, Viktoriia. She currently attends bi-monthly meetings of the Burlington Chess Club and has a lot more to teach Yehor.

And not just about chess.

“She is better than me. I’m just learning,” he said.