Ukrainian refugees celebrating Christmas in Utah with gratitude

SALT LAKE CITY — Sitting on the couch in his Provo apartment, Legran Tadevosyan read aloud from the Bible as his wife Uliana Rohanova and their two children listened. The parents wanted their kids, 9-year-old Oleksandra and 7-year-old Daniel, to learn the story of Christmas.

The family of four hung out on a quiet holiday together, staying home for most of the day.

While the kids were excited about Christmas, Legran and Uliana didn’t have any friends or family to spend it with.

“We don’t know where places we can visit here,” Uliana explained. “We want to go some places, but we don’t know where we can, or who, or people, or friends. So, it’s hard.”

It’s a far cry from the holiday season a year ago, when the couple and their children spent time with family and friends in their home city of Mariupol, Ukraine.

Photos show Oleksandra and Daniel smiling next to Santa Claus. Uliana has pictures of them with extended family members at a Christmas exhibits and holiday light displays in Mariupol.

Those times feel like a dream now to Uliana, thinking back to living together as a family in Ukraine and speaking in their language.

“We remember about them. We remember how it was,” she said.

Just a few months after the family took photos during Christmas last year, Russia invaded their city.

They lived in fear as bombings and fighting threatened their lives. People they loved died in the war.

Legran and Uliana fled before Mariupol fell to Russia. The couple spent seven months traveling from place to place across Ukraine and Europe, eventually arriving in the US through the Uniting for Ukraine program. They settled in Utah in late October.

For them, leaving everything behind wasn’t a choice.

“We don’t have a place now for return because now Ukraine, it’s a dangerous place,” Uliana said. “And worse than being dangerous, our city is destroyed. And we don’t have a home.”

They wanted to make sure their kids were safe– especially because Uliana is expecting the couple’s third child in February.

“We want to be in a good place. We want to grow up our children in a good place, and we want to be alive. It’s the most important part,” she said.

Uliana and Legran found out about her pregnancy shortly after they left Ukraine.

“It was a surprise,” she said, with a laugh. “But we are happy about it.”

The couple may not have the same network of family and friends in Utah as they did back in Ukraine, but they still have Christmas cheer this season. They put up a Christmas tree and decorated their apartment with tinsel, lights, and stockings above a faux fireplace they created with paper.

“You need some joy and happiness,” Uliana said.

They’re able to talk to Uliana’s family in Mariupol every once in a while, but Uliana explained that cell service is often out. They got to talk to them the day before Christmas, and said their family back home is trying to make the best of things too.

When the couple welcomes their little girl to the world in a couple of months, they know she’ll be safe– and they expressed that it is giving them hope during the holidays.

“We are happy because we are together,” Uliana said. “Because it’s so important you have all your family, and your life. It’s so important.”

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