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For a family of Ukrainian refugees arriving in Carmel, it is a very happy Thanksgiving.

The Buianov Pronich family

The Buianov Pronich family—Yanna, Nikita, Volodymyr and Rinat, from left to right—are scheduled to arrive on Wednesday, Nov. 30 in Carmel. They are Ukrainian refugees being sponsored by a local couple.

Sara Rubin here, on the eve of a multi-family gathering at my house. But while I think about what I am grateful for—including, of course, the ability to gather with family—I am even more moved by one Carmel household opening their doors to a family in need. 

One week from today, on Nov. 30, Victoria Beach and Vinz Koller are headed to SFO to pick up a family of four: The Buianov Pronich family is Yanna and Volodymyr, and their sons Rinat (age 14) and Nikita (3), and they were displaced from their home in Donetsk, Ukraine in 2014 when Russia invaded. 

They fled to Bucha, where they survived Putin’s atrocities in the past year. They fled again, and have been living in a refugee camp in Germany where Rinat is currently taking eighth-grade classes. And at this moment they are somewhere in transit—on their way to get to an airport and eventually arriving in Carmel in a week. 

They are refugees who will be welcomed by a private family into the United States, under a special program first developed to help resettle Afghan refugees after American troops withdrew from Afghanistan. The innovative program, created by the U.S. State Department in partnership with Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisers, Inc.‚ allows regular people—not refugee resettlement agencies, nonprofits or churches, just people like you and me (or in this case, Beach and Koller)—to host people from Afghanistan and now Ukraine. Sponsors go through a background check and are responsible for supporting refugees for three months (housing, groceries, transportation, bills). For immigration purposes, the family will be defined as “humanitarian parolees.”

Beach first read about the program in the Weekly, where we have covered the stories of a group of neighbors hosting a family from Afghanistan, and of a Seaside couple hosting nine Ukrainians. Beach and Koller have been in contact for advice, and in the weeks leading up to the arrival of the Buianov Pronich family, they’ve been getting ready: installing extra shelving, cleaning the pantry, asking Carmel businesses to support them with gifts. (The business community has already come together to create welcome bags the family will receive upon arrival.)

They’ve also been working to get the kids enrolled in school at Carmel Unified School District. Nikita will be in the Carmelo Co-Op Preschool, and Rinat’s grade level remains TBD; he completed seventh grade back home in Ukraine. 

Meanwhile, Beach has been talking to Volodymyr, the most proficient English speaker in the family. “Hearing each other’s voices, we burst into tears,” she says. “It’s such a connection—everybody understands what’s at stake.”

For a time, the connection was abstract, just people on paper who may get matched with Beach and Koller. Now, the family is real, and their arrival is imminent. 

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“You have the pleasure of getting to help in a way that is not abstract,” Beach says. “It is very tangible. It is just an honor to be able to do that.” 

As far as help goes, there is opportunity for the community to contribute. Specifically Beach is seeking the donation of a car so the family can get around, and also cash so that they can start saving to find their own place to live and become independent. 

When Beach first spoke to Volodymyr and told him, you’ll have two rooms and two beds for your family of four, and then you’ll need to figure out how to make it in one of the most expensive places, she says he was unfazed. 

“He said, we are four to a bed right now, we are grateful for anything,” Beach says. 

I wish you all the best in celebrating gratitude tomorrow.

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Sara Rubin loves long public meetings, red pens and reading (on newsprint). She has been editor of the Monterey County Weekly since 2016, and has been on staff since 2010.

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