‘Our hearts are there’: Ukrainian family seeking refuge on Maui longs to return home

“We’re OK because we’re safe here. But our hearts are there, and they’re broken.”
"Even though it's been already a month of war in Ukraine, it's still hard to realize that this is really going on."
Published: Apr. 5, 2022 at 5:23 PM HST|Updated: Apr. 5, 2022 at 5:59 PM HST
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KULA (HawaiiNewsNow) - Milana Bugay is 5. She loves to play the piano and draw.

She doesn’t speak English, but is going to school on Maui ― until it’s safe enough to go back home.

“Even though it’s been already a month of war in Ukraine, it’s still hard to realize that this is really going on,” said Milana’s mother Vladlena, who is from Ukraine and seeking refuge on the Valley Island during the war. “We’re OK because we’re safe here. But our hearts are there, and they’re broken.”

It’s been more than a month since Russia invaded Ukraine.

Vladlena said their hometown, Mykolaiv, is now under attack by Russian forces.

She, Milana, and her mother Olena came to Maui in late January for an extended vacation when tensions between Russia and Ukraine were escalating. The plan was to have her husband Sergiy and her father Igor join them in February and they would fly back home together in March.

But then the war broke out.

“Their flight was supposed to be on the 24th of February, and that’s the first day of the war,” Vladlena said. “That’s when they invaded our country and basically when the attacks happened.

“They were already on the way to the airport and they had to flee.”

The family has been living with Barclay and Kathleen MacDonald in Kula ever since.

The MacDonalds first met Vladlena back in 2004 when she lived with them as an exchange student. They have stayed connected ever since.

Barclay is very familiar with the conflict between Russian and Ukraine and convinced Vladlena to come to Maui with her family.

“I finally tricked her into coming by telling her it would be a vacation,” said Barclay. “And just as we got them all here, the war fully broke out and you see what you see today.”

The MacDonalds, once a family of two, instantly turned into a family of seven.

The Ukrainians say the MacDonalds saved their lives.

“We were coming with a strong belief that we’ll come and we will go back home. But now we understand that they literally saved us and we really thank them,” said Vladlena.

“We don’t know where we would be without them.”

The Ukrainians do not know when they can return to their homeland, but they are finding solace on Maui in the meantime.

If you would like to help this family while they seek refuge on the Valley Isle, click here.

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