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‘We’re a refuge’: West Haven welcomes Ukrainian family

Ukrainian Family Welcomed To West Haven
Ryan Caron King
Connecticut Public
Four-year-old Adam Bizyayev rounds the corner into the West Haven city clerk's office. His parents fled Kharkiv, Ukraine, with him and his two siblings after the Russian invasion and now are staying with a host in West Haven. Municipal workers and community members greeted the family with pizza, cake and toys for the children on Monday, a few days after they arrived.

After almost two months of traveling from one refugee camp to another in Europe, the Bizyayev family is in West Haven.

Kristina and Yevgeniy Bizyayev hope to get their three young sons settled in Connecticut schools soon. But they want to eventually get back home to Kharkiv, Ukraine.

“We understand that it’s not only one day, or even one month,” Kristina Bizyayev said. “It will take really, a big amount of time to stop this war.”

On Monday, West Haven officials welcomed the family. Workers in the city clerk’s office got together for a last-minute party, with a yellow and blue balloon arch, boxes of donated toys for the Bizyayevs’ sons, a sheet cake and Zuppardi’s pizza.

The family is among nearly 4.5 million Ukrainians who have fled their country since the Russian invasion began in late February, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency. Most have gone to Poland and Romania. The Biden administration said it would welcome 100,000 refugees from Ukraine. The Bizyayevs are among the first Ukrainian refugee families in Connecticut.

They arrived last week at the home of Gaye Hyre, a West Haven resident. The timing wasn’t lost on Hyre. On Friday, she’ll celebrate the Jewish holiday of Passover.

“When you have a Seder, one of the things that you do is you open the door and say, ‘Let all who are hungry come in and eat,’” Hyre said.

“And those who need shelter join us.”

An empty-nester, Hyre volunteered her home to host refugee families through UkraineTakeShelter.com, a website providing secure and reliable connections between hosts and Ukrainian refugees.

Hyre said she got an email at 4 a.m. on a Wednesday that they were arriving the next day. Hyre cleaned her guest room in a hurry and welcomed the Bizyayevs.

Hyre said they’ll be welcome at her home and in West Haven. Taking in refugees or being welcomed as a refugee is part of the American experience, she said. Hyre said her grandmother fled her home in what is now modern-day Ukraine around 1910. Jews in that region were being attacked and killed in pogroms. They eventually found a new home in New York.

“We’re a refuge and people have to remember that,” Hyre said.

Ukrainian Family Welcomed To West Haven
Ryan Caron King
Connecticut Public
Kristina Bizyayev holds her 1-year-old son, Leo, in the clerk’s office at West Haven City Hall. Bizyayev fled Kharkiv, in eastern Ukraine, with her husband and three children after the Russian invasion. A West Haven resident signed up to host the family through UkraineTakeShelter.com as they get settled in Connecticut.

The Bizyayevs have family in Boston and New York City, and they’re looking to stay until at least September.

Kristina Bizyayev’s mother and nephew are in Mariupol, a city that has undergone extensive Russian fire.

“I think, 20 of March someone told me they are alive, but now I don’t know, I don’t know anything,” she said.

Her sister is trying to get a car so that she can drive there to pick them up.

“But it’s really dangerous, I don’t know how it’s possible to do because Russian soldiers don’t allow anyone to go inside the city,” she said.

The Bizyayevs left Kharkiv shortly after the bombing began in February. They lived out of their car for three days with their three sons, Daniel, 6, Adam, 4, and Leo, 1, and later stayed in refugee camps in Moldova, Romania, and Germany.

While in a camp in Germany, Leo turned 1.

“It wasn’t so fun but we bought cheesecake and ate all together and sang ‘Happy Birthday,’” Kristina Bizyayev said, bouncing her son on her hip.

“I hope it’s the first and the last birthday he has in a refugee camp,” she said.


Ali Oshinskie is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. She loves hearing what you thought of her stories or story ideas you have so please email her at aoshinskie@ctpublic.org.
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