Elderly Ukrainian couple “carrying the pain” of war as they resettle in Palo Alto

When the retired doctor and his wife fled their home in Ukraine, they took only the most precious things with them – a white linen tablecloth with pink edges hand stitched by her great-grandmother and a spoonful of dirt from her garden that She holds in her heart-shaped box.

Anatoly and Maria Maslyanchuk are in their 70s and hope to return to the 50-year-old shared home they opened for days and weeks at a time for refugees from the eastern side of the country, who are being Shelter was needed. Worst of war.

Now they too are refugees, settling in Palo Alto as guests of Moldau Family Residences, a retirement community with Jewish origins sponsoring them with free housing and food.

Mariia Maslianchuk packed this heart-shaped box with holy water and bread and a spoonful of earth from her garden before she and her husband, Anatoly, fled their home in a Ukrainian village in April 2022. The Molda retirement community in Palo Alto is offering them free housing for one year. (Photo courtesy of the Maslianchuk family)

“Most of us have been affected by the war,” said Alice Gerson, whose grandparents fled Nazi Germany. “There are residents here who survived the holocaust. My grandparents – me – would not have been here without the kindness of strangers.”

Since the couple arrived in Moldavia three weeks ago, after a winding journey that took them through Turkey and Mexico, briefly separating them and hospitalizing them for stress, neighbors have showered cards and well wishes. welcomed them. Maslianchuk greets guests with traditional bread and salt and puts it on an immaculate linen tablecloth to share. They don’t speak English, so what they can’t express in words, they show in hugs and smiles.

But, as Maria says, “I take the pain with me.”

In an interview at a high retirement community this week, translated via their daughter Oksana, who has lived in the US for eight years, Maria and Anatoly explained what they had endured.

After Russia invaded Ukraine in February, he and his neighbors opened their homes in western Ukraine to those fleeing the war-torn east. Some will simply stay overnight to seek refuge in the neighboring countries of Poland, Romania and Hungary during their stay. Others lasted for weeks or months.

It is the image of an 11-year-old boy named Artem that haunts Maria the most. His grandparents explained that they had dodged the bombs and watched soldiers die as they fled their home in Donetsk. Children and the elderly were encouraged to leave first, so the boy’s parents were left behind. When Artem arrived at their door, he was so hurt that he could not speak. He lived with Maslyanchuk and his neighbors for about three months, and yet his eyes were filled with fear.

“I gave her candy and tried to introduce her to my neighbors’ kids and asked them to play together to relieve that tension,” said 70-year-old Maria. “I would say these boys want to play with you, but it was difficult. The boy was always scared.”

Anatoly, 73, had seen such fear before. When he was a young doctor, he boarded an ambulance to evacuate frightened families from the villages around Chernobyl after the nuclear reactor explosion in northern Ukraine in 1986. He said most of his colleagues who were exposed to radiation had died, he said. Anatoly is undergoing treatment for throat cancer.

After coming into contact with them, he and his wife, whose daughter is his only child, decided not to have any more children. He didn’t know how long he would live to raise them.

Palo Alto, California - July 27: Maslyanchuk Maria Tears Up As She Tells The Story Of The Ukraine War In Her New Apartment At Moldov Residences On Wednesday, July 27, 2022.  (Wangyuxuan Xu/Bay Area Newsgroup)
PALO ALTO, CALIFORNIA – JULY 27: Maslyanchuk Maria tears up as she tells the story of the Ukraine War in her new apartment at Moldov Residences on Wednesday, July 27, 2022. (Wangyuxuan Xu/Bay Area Newsgroup)

From the beginning of the war, Oksana begged her parents to come to the United States. A cousin nearly lost his life in eastern Ukraine, but survived for two weeks in an underground shelter. Although the fighting was mostly concentrated miles away along the eastern borders, sirens often sounded in the village of Maslianchuks to the west, each time frightening the boy. Danger always seemed close.

Oksana, a licensed radiologist in Ukraine, was here in 2014, the last time the Russians invaded Ukraine over Crimean territory. While she is trying to re-establish her medical credentials, she is working as a live-in caregiver. He had no home of his own to take his parents. But she promised that she would get them something.

Oksana’s friends took them to their homes in Redwood City and San Francisco when they first arrived in April, and could sometimes accommodate only one parent or the other. At different times, each was hospitalized because of Maria’s heart problems and Anatoly’s cancer and other ailments caused by stress.

Oksana eventually contacted Jewish Family and Children’s Services, a Bay Area human services charity that has been in business since the Gold Rush when she first helped widows and orphans. The organization’s core values ​​of welcoming strangers and “repairing the world” led it to provide a range of services, including helping displaced families such as Maslyanchuk. This has helped settle and gain an advantage for 200 Ukrainians since the war began.

When the director of the Moldaw retirement community offered a one-bedroom apartment for an elderly Ukrainian couple in need, he recommended Maslianchuks, a Ukrainian Orthodox Christian.

Betty and Neil Adler, who live in the retirement community, were the first to welcome them. Nile is of Ukrainian origin; His grandparents were from Odessa and Kyiv. Betty’s parents fled Nazi Germany in 1938, when her older brother was three months old, just before “Kristalnacht”, the night of broken glass when organized groups of Nazis ransacked Jewish neighborhoods.

“Most of my mother’s family was murdered. All his aunts and uncles and cousins ​​and his parents. I never had those grandparents,” said Betty, who was born in the United States. “My parents were refugees and lived on a farm in Missouri with no one around them who spoke German. They were very different. My mother said that the neighbors were very kind to her.

Helping the Maslionchucks is “paying it forward, or paying it back,” she said. “We need to help those who are in need.”

The retirement community has promised to care for them for at least a year. Until then, Maslionchuks hopes to be back home. The 11-year-old boy is reunited with his parents, which they hope will be reunited with their relatives soon.

In the meantime, they would try and welcome the neighbors with bread and salt.

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