‘Extremely grateful’: Family from Ukraine escapes war, feeling welcome on the Big Island

  • Maksym Koloson, his wife Karina (right) and daughter Lina (left) pose for a photo at their current home in Pahala. (Courtesy photo/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Maksym Koloson, his wife Karina (right) and daughter Lina (left) pose for a photo at their current home in Pahala. (Courtesy photo/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Maksym Koloson and daughter Lina made for a special moment posing for a photo during 2020 in Ukraine. (Courtesy photo/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Maksym Koloson (right) speaks on a cellphone as daughter Lina (left) eats Cup Noodles at the U.S.-Mexico border on April 1. (Courtesy photo/Special to West Hawaii Today)

Maksym Koloson, his wife Karina and 12-year-old daughter Lina fled Eastern Ukraine as Russia’s attack began in February and have landed on the Big Island after two months of traveling.

Tired, unsure of the future, and worried about their family and friends in Ukraine, the loving trio can’t help but also feel grateful for the warm welcome the community has given them, along with the restful and relaxing nature of Hawaii.

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“We’re extremely grateful for how warm and welcoming everyone has been,” Maksym said in an interview that was translated for West Hawaii Today.

“We we’re considering landing in Seattle, but it’s relaxing here. It’s much less stressful in a small town where people might be able to recognize us,” he continued. “It’s more personable. We just had dinner with a woman from the community. Our daughter is meeting other kids and socializing.”

Maksym also noted that their first priority is to learn the language here.

“We’re talking to neighbors, we’re learning the language. We can work toward our goals here,” he said.

Maksym and Karina got married Feb. 22, just days before Russia began its ongoing attack on the former-Soviet Union country. The day attack got underway, the family packed their car, leaving everything they had and knew behind in Slovyansk.

After driving across Ukraine, the family reached Germany, where they boarded a flight to Mexico in seek of “humanitarian parole.” After crossing the border, the family went to California. Having friends in Hawaii, this was their next destination.

But all the traveling has made the family weary.

“We have no peace,” said Karina. “It’s like we are living is Sci-Fi film, it’s hard to process. I still have a hard time grasping this is actually happening. I think it feels this way for all Ukrainians.”

On the ground in Ukraine, Russian forces poured into central, northern and eastern Ukraine this week, including the last pocket of resistance in Mariupol, as part its offensive to take the industrial Donbas region, while Ukraine recaptured some towns and villages in the northeast.

More, the first war-crimes trial of a Russian soldier since the start of the conflict opened Friday in Kyiv. A 21-year-old captured member of a tank unit is accused of shooting to death a civilian on a bicycle during the opening week of the war.

Currently, more than eight million people are now displaced within Ukraine, with nearly half fleeing homes in the country’s east, according to the International Organization for Migration.

For Karina, sometimes it’s easier to not watch the news at all.

“Usually, we check the news, but this past month, we’re not checking the news much,” she said. “Our situation has not changed. Ukraine is a horrible time right now. We’re in contact with some friends who stayed in Ukraine. They help older people or people who need help. They talk to us about situations that are really hard.”

Feelings of powerlessness wave over the family.

“The thing is we miss our friends and family very much. We have aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews there. It breaks our heart because there’s nothing we can do. We can’t go back. It’s heart breaking there’s nothing we can do about it,” Karina said.

When asked what the family who’s settled in Pahala for now needed from the local community, their answer was: The basics.

“Food and rent,” they said. “If possible, maybe a car.”

But what they really want is to help bring attention to the struggle in Ukraine.

“It’s the struggle of a whole nation,” Karina concluded.

A GoFundMe has been setup, anyone who would like to donate can here https://gofund.me/f9f3c451

The Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times contributed to this story.