Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Cloudy 35° Cloudy
News >  Pacific NW

Thankful: Family who fled Russian-invaded Ukraine finds warm welcome in Yakima

Nov. 24, 2022 Updated Thu., Nov. 24, 2022 at 8:52 p.m.

By Phil Ferolito Yakima Herald-Republic

YAKIMA – Though today will be the Trokhyms’ first Thanksgiving, the family undoubtedly knows what it means to be thankful.

On Feb. 24, Russian troops violently invaded their homeland with ground and air assaults. Civilian areas, including residential neighborhoods, were bombed.

Roman, 44, and Iryna Trokhym, 41, were out of town working when their daughters – Liliya and Viktoriya – awoke to the news in their hometown of Sokal, Ukraine.

“Just like open my news and started to read everything …” 19-year-old Liliya said with a strong Ukrainian accent. “I awake, everyone rush; it was crazy morning. All shops were like so full of people. It was difficult to have cash because no one expected that.

“Mom and dad were far from us. It’s the beginning – a terrible beginning.”

Roman Trokhym was working a construction job in the Netherlands while his wife, Iryna, was working in Lviv, where she served as a chief specialist for the General Directorate of the State Migration Service.

Iryna Trokhym called her husband and daughters. She told her daughters to go buy food for their dogs and to pack what they needed.

That evening, Iryna Trokhym and her daughters grabbed a ride with a neighbor to the Polish border, where miles of cars and trucks were backed up. The dogs were left with the girls’ grandparents, who decided to say behind.

At the Polish border, they waited 24 hours in a small, cramped car in the cold. Eventually they got a ride to Warsaw, where Roman Trokhym was able to meet them.

Today, the Trokhyms are living in Yakima with a host family they’ve known for years – Markian and Iryna Petruncio, who have strong ties to Ukraine.

On a recent evening, the Petruncios opened their home to the Yakima Herald-Republic to allow the Trokhyms to share their story.

Iryna Petruncio, who shares the same first name as Roman Trokhym’s wife, provided much translation though Liliya and Viktoriya were often eager to answer questions in English.

Lasting friendship

Iryna Petruncio and Roman Trokhym were classmates at Ukrainian State University of Forest and Wood Technology.

Markian Petruncio was a forestry professor at Heritage University at the time. He was visiting Ukrainian State University when he met his future wife in 1996.

Three years later they were married in Lviv and Roman Trokhym was the best man.

The two families kept in touch over the years.

And when the invasion began, Iryna Petruncio began contacting family and friends in Ukraine.

“I have lots of family, lots of friends so I just went down the list,” she said.

Iryna Petruncio said she learned of the U.S. Homeland Security’s Uniting Ukraine program that allows Ukraine refugees with United States sponsors to enter the country.

She applied in May, and the Trokhyms arrived in Yakima in late June.

Now the home is warmly full but sometimes names can get confused. Not only are there two Irynas in the house, but two Romans as well. The Petruncio’s oldest son also is named Roman.

The Petuncios also have two other sons, John and Yuriy and a daughter, Sophia. They’re all within a similar age span as the Trokhyms’ children.

Devastation

This isn’t the first time war has touched the Trokhyms. Roman Trokhym served in the Ukrainian army in 2014, when Russia invaded eastern parts of Ukraine.

“He fought to liberate those parts,” Iryna Petruncio said. “He knew what it was going to bring so he was really concerned and hopeful that his family could make it out of the country in time and to safety.”

Before Feb. 24, Roman Trokhym said many didn’t believe a full invasion would happen.

He said he cannot believe what Russian forces are doing in occupied areas: They’re taking clothing, jewelry, televisions, washing machines and toilets and committing heinous war crimes.

Roman Trokhym said he believes what most Ukrainians believe: Vladimir Putin has lost his mind.

“When you have a war between two countries, it’s a war between two armies but going in and raping children and women and committing crimes the way his army is conducting themselves is not war,” Roman Trokhym said. “It’s genocide and terrorism.”

Life now

Roman Trokhym recently began a job as a driver at Yakima Valley School, a nursing facility in Selah. He drives a passenger vehicle and a food delivery truck.

Iryna Trokhym now is working as an assistant teacher at Oakridge Montessori School in Yakima.

When asked what life is like now, Roman Trokym said: “Work. It’s nice, peaceful. No worries. Different worries. No war worries.”

Their daughters are in school. Viktoriya, 17, is attending La Salle High School and Liliya is going to Yakima Valley College.

Viktoriya said students at first think she’s from France. Most students aren’t aware of what’s happening in Ukraine, asking if the war had stopped.

Despite that, Viktoriya and Liliya both said they feel warmly embraced by fellow students and teachers.

A leadership teacher allowed Viktoriya to deliver a presentation about her life in her Ukrainian language.

“I was so grateful. I don’t know, I just feel so comfortable speaking my native language,” she said. “I said, ‘cool, I can say anything I want.’ “

But Viktoriya said she kept to her story line. “I didn’t make stupid jokes,” she said.

Her classmates were amazed by her native language.

“They were like, ‘Wow, what language is that?’ I said Ukraine. They said ‘Wow, so cool.’ ”

Hope

Roman Trokhym said Ukrainian soldiers have been adapting well to donated weaponry and are making progress in taking back areas of Ukraine. He hopes the war will end soon.

Iryna Petruncio interpreted his words:

“He said the success comes from the belief that they are fighting for their country, the land, wives and mothers, children. That carries them.”

Roman Trokhym said he feels he should be fighting to help liberate Ukraine.

But Iryna Petruncio convinced him to come here, work, support his wife and children and send money bock home.

They miss the way their country was before the war.

Iryna Trokhym played a video on her phone of her homeland. People were walking through cobblestone streets that winded beneath towering buildings featuring dramatic European architecture.

“Lviv,” she said, naming the town.

Everyone walks in the streets and cafes abound, she said.

“When the war is over, you can come and visit,” her husband said.

Their daughters want to stay here to get their education and experience American life.

“For my parents it’s much more difficult than me and my sister because we young and it’s time for change,” Liliya said. “Yeah, we miss our home, we miss Ukraine and we really want to come back like for a while actually but it’s time for change because our age is good for that.”

Thankful

The Trokhyms said they cannot give enough thanks to the Petruncio family for taking them in and making them feel welcome.

“We’re just super grateful with this family for everything, for being with them this holidays this year,” Liliya said. “You can just ask and we can never hear, like, no (from them). We always hear, ‘OK, my pleasure, for sure.’ “

They also say they’re thankful for how Yakima has embraced them.

Iryna Trokhym said she often takes the bus to work, and if she gets a ride from a friend, the bus driver asks her if everything is OK the next time she’s at the bus stop.

“He knows I must be there at 8 o’clock,” she said.

Iryna Trokham pointed with appreciation to a group of people who gather each Thursday near 40th and Summitview Avenues to hold signs in support of Ukraine.

Roman Trokhym said he’d grateful for the Petruncios as well as Roger Gavriluk with Operation Shoulder to Shoulder, a newly established refugee service provider in Yakima that’s been providing English classes.

He hopes the news will keep emphasis on developments in Ukraine, and that support from the U.S. and European Union will continue.

On Thursday, they will honor the holiday with a turkey dinner.

Markian Petruncio said they’re all thankful for being together, being safe, getting an education and settling in with jobs.

“It’s a chance to take a pause and kind of take a step back from all the routines that become so demanding of our time,” he said of the holiday. “It’s a time where we can reflect on our many blessings in small and big ways.”

Reach Phil Ferolito at pferolito@yakimaherald.com.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox

Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.