Ukrainian refugees find safety in Keokuk
KEOKUK (WGEM) - Lee County community members formed the Keokuk Refugee Coalition in August of 2022.
It’s a group that aims to help Ukrainians who want to escape from the war with Russia.
Andrii and Natalia Sotsenko are the first refugees being looked after by the coalition and they arrived to Keokuk on Oct. 30.
They said they’ve figured out what they want to do for work and what their favorite American fast food is.
But, their journey getting to the United States hasn’t been easy and this week, the couple learned more information about the ongoing war taking place in their country.
After fleeing from their hometown of Kherson in Ukraine, the Sotsenko’s were relieved to hear that their city had been liberated by Ukrainian soldiers in the second week of November.
They thought it meant a big victory for their hometown and a small victory for the country as a whole.
That is until Kherson was bombed on Thanksgiving.
“It’s constantly missiling and shelling the cities,” said Andrii Sotsenko. “We’re actually, it’s why we’re here and nothing’s changed, it continues to roar.”
After Andrii and Natalia Sotsenko married at the end of 2021, they started learning of Russian invasions in their country and made a plan to escape to Finland while they waited to find a sponsor in the United States.
“We had applied for the platform ‘Welcome.US’ for looking for a sponsor,” said Andrii Sotsenko.
The website Welcome.US allows Ukrainian refugees to find potential American sponsors.
Keokuk Refugee Coalition member Erika Barrett said the Sotsenko’s learned of help in Lee County after living in Finland for two months.
“They’ve used this before for Afghani refugees and now they’re using it for Ukrainian, I don’t know if eventually it will be open to Iranian or other refugees, but it’s just been a good platform for sponsors,” said Barrett. “Anyone in the U.S. who wants to help can create an account.”
As far as Andrii and Natalia Sotsenko know, their family members still living in Ukraine and Finland are safe.
“Every day we keep a conversation, so we stay in touch with them of course every day,” said Andrii Sotsenko.
The male members of their family are still living in Kherson while the women are in Finland.
Andrii Sotsenko said because of the state Kherson is in right now, it’s much harder to check in on their male relatives.
The Sotsenko’s have plans of finding jobs while they seek refuge in the U.S. for the next two years.
Andrii Sotsenko wants to get his commercial driver’s license and work as a semi-truck driver.
Natalia Sotsenko wants to hone in on her English speaking skills and soon pursue a career related to photography and social media management.
The couple said that the Keokuk Refugee Coalition has been helpful in their transition to living in the U.S.
They thanked the people of Keokuk for being welcoming and fun.
You can visit the Keokuk Refugee Coalition website for more information on how you can help.
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