Ukrainian family flees war, living with hosts at Lake Tahoe

Ashleigh Goodwin /
Oleksandr,Olena, and Sasha Falko with Cari & Brian Beetham
Provided Cari Beetham
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STATELINE, Nev. — For the last six months Ukraine has been forced to wage war with Russia.

For one Ukrainian family, a vacation turned into a saving grace.

The Falko family, Oleksandr and Olena Falko and their 3-year-old son are residents of Kherson, Ukraine. They received devastating videos and images the day they were to return home from holiday in Thailand. The unsettling news set-in motion an extended adventure they never planned.

“We wanted to return home on the 25th but the situation was too ambiguous and our neighbors’ sent pictures and videos,” Oleksandr told the Tribune. “We saw cars and people shot.”

Increasingly dire circumstances grips the dwindling population of Kherson, the first city to be overtaken by Russian forces. Just four days into the war the battle of Kherson ended in its occupation by Russia. Prewar population was approximately 300,000 and now its streets are empty and citizens have fled in an attempt to save their lives and the lives of their families.

According to the Associated Press, “Those wanting to leave Kherson must pass a series of Russian military checkpoints. Soldiers search belongings, identity papers and mobile phones, with anyone suspected of supporting the resistance facing interrogation at so-called filtration camps.”

Many Ukrainians are seeking refuge through a program called U for U. Uniting for Ukraine is a U.S based program allowing a temporary two-year probationary period for those fleeing the Russian invasion. 

According to their website, “The first step in the Uniting for Ukraine process is for the U.S.-based supporter to file a Form I-134, Declaration of Financial Support, with USCIS. The U.S. government will then vet the supporter to ensure that they are able to financially support the individual whom they agree to support.”

South Tahoe Residents, Cari and Brian Beetham, are hosting the Falko family.

“We knew we wanted to help a family, so we signed up on the website,” Cari said. “We had to pledge to take care of the family.”

Instead of returning home as they had planned on Feb. 25, the Falkos traded their tickets to Kherson for flights to Bulgaria. From Bulgaria they went to Germany, continuing the process to register and find a sponsor. Their destination prior to coming stateside was England, where they stayed until the day family arrived safely at Lake Tahoe late at night.

While the Beethams pledged to financially care for the family, the Falkos have relied on their financial reserves to travel and to care for themselves thus far. In Kherson they have apartments, cars and boats, a whole life they’ve established, none of which is accessible. It is unclear when the war will cease or what will remain once it has. 

CNN reported that Russian occupation in Kherson is facing a Ukrainian campaign to choke the river and rail supply lines which has limited the flow of ammunition.

On Wednesday, Aug. 17, Ukrainian admitted Russian progress on the west side but simultaneously sent a counterattack to the south which killed multiple Russian soldiers, according to CNN. 

CNN’s Tim Lister said, “The armed forces said between 10 and 15 Russian soldiers had been killed in the strike against a Russian post near the town of Nova Kakhovka.”

For now, the South Shore of Lake Tahoe has become a haven for this displaced family of three. While their hometown is war torn, learning English and finding work to sustain themselves has become their focus. 

“They won’t even say his (Putin’s) name, they stay positive, and I don’t know how,” Cari said. 

Despite uncertainty, their son, nicknamed Sasha, has been accepted into a local preschool, online English classes are being researched and they wait for news on their submitted work visas. 

Olexandr said, “I want to express my gratitude for the U.S. government and the U.S. people for their support. Please do not be afraid to take responsibility and to take on the sponsorship roles.” 

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website has information for those who would like to sponsor displaced families. 

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