Today we had the opportunity to hear from Julie Tryukhan, from Ukraine. Julie and her two children fled from Kyiv in 2022 to Knoxville, where she was once an exchange student at The Webb School of Knoxville back in 2007 where she met Liz Gregor from our club. Her husband, Dima, remains in Ukraine serving his country in the war effort where he was at Point Zero on the front lines for 2 ½ months but now is away from the front lines. Julie shared her journey, as well as her heart, about her war-torn country and how she and her family are doing now that she has been settled in Knoxville again for about 9 months.

In early 2022 life was normal for Julie and her husband Dima as they were working, raising two children, snowboarding, her husband playing in a rock band, and just enjoying life. But on February 24, 2022, everything changed. They heard a loud explosion in the middle of the night which turned out to be Russian missiles that hit a residential complex next door to theirs. They ended up having to go down to their basement in their apartment building where they spent several nights there with their two kids. Julie and Dima wanted to protect their children, so Julie decided to take the children and leave Kyiv and head to the western part of the Ukraine. Dima had to stay back since he had been drafted into the Ukrainian Army. To leave Kyiv, she had to board a crowded train with thousands of other Ukrainians trying to flee their homes. The train that normally had four people in a compartment held nine in her compartment and another one close by held fifteen people. People were standing packed in the aisles as the train made the trip out of the city. She showed us pictures of the scene where thousands of people were crowding in to get on the train. It was just a sea of people trying to get in a limited number of seats and aisleways in this vehicle that could take them to safety. Julie told us, when a child’s life is at stake, you do what you need to do.

Julie stayed in Uzhhord in western Ukraine for about 2 ½ months where at first life seemed normal there with people going out to restaurants and carrying on with life. But then, air raid sirens started going off, sometimes for hours, signaling that airstrikes could be on the way. With danger still imminent, Julie wanted to get her kids to safety. Fortunately, with her connections through Rotary to another exchange student she knew at Webb 15 years earlier, she was able to connect with her and ended up travelling to Slovakia to live with her family for about 4 ½ months. The Farragut Rotary Club heard about their plight, and Bill Nichols took the lead for the club and worked to buy airline tickets for Julie and her children to bring them back to Knoxville.

Once in Knoxville again, she was able to reconnect with her former host family, the Vogels, as they welcomed her back to stay with them. Julie is able to speak with Dima about every other day now, and she says, “…thank God for FaceTime!” After getting settled, she has managed to get her own apartment and still works remotely with her company back in the Ukraine. However, Julie is seeking local employment in the area so she can send her son to preschool. She is a Human Resource specialist for an IT company, so if you know of any good opportunities in the area, I’m sure she’d be thankful for a referral.

She shared a few tidbits of what she has learned during this most difficult period in her life:

Cherish every moment with your loved ones, as you may never know what may happen and you may even lose it all. 2. Don’t postpone life, do what makes you happy while you can. 3. She also shared that her husband regrets not spending more quality time with her kids on the weekend instead of being lazy and not being more intentional about their time. In closing, Julie said she realizes now how life is precious and asked us to keep the Ukraine in our prayers. We are so thankful for Julie and her family’s journey to safety so far and hope, like her, that her husband can be reunited with them soon. It is refreshing also, to see how Rotary played a unique roll in her life and in the well-being of her family. Julie, are hearts, thoughts, and prayers are with you, your family, and your fellow countrymen back in Ukraine.

Scribe: Alan Hill