‘We lost our lives one year ago’ – Tetiana fled Ukraine, finds purpose on LCSNW staff

by | Feb 24, 2023 | Refugees & Immigrants, Staff Spotlight

By Shelly Strom/ LCSNW Communications Specialist

Tetiana Kolodii said she’s still reeling from what her life was like just 12 months ago in her Ukrainian homeland.

“Almost every time I hear news about my city, I have this PTSD-type response. I think every Ukrainian who has experienced the war has it. The sounds of planes now remind me of what it was like in those early days last year—we have air defense systems to deflect bombs and that’s what I think of. I actually have a bodily reaction—I get goosebumps.” 

Today Tetiana is 26 years old, living in Oregon City and working as a Medical Case Manager for LCSNW. Now a full-time team member for MCS in Portland, Tetiana said the work gives her purpose and eases the heartbreak of knowing what’s happening to Ukrainians.

A native of Zhytomyr city, less than two hours from Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, Tetiana earned a bachelor’s degree in social work, as well as a dual-major master’s degree in special education and speech therapy. After college, she worked as a special needs educator.

Her city was not spared from Russia’s initial attack in the early hours of February 24, 2022. Zhytomyr city received hits by Russian munitions that day. Within the first week, at least one million people had fled Ukraine, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees

By mid-March, Tetiana was leaving as well, headed to Germany on a work trip. When the work ended a few weeks later, she chose to stay to seek refugee status. Tetiana soon became aware of Uniting for Ukraine, a program providing a pathway for Ukrainians escaping danger to seek asylum in the United States. 

From Germany, she contacted some of her American friends. “They wanted to help me come to the U.S.,” she said. Three weeks later, Tetiana was on her way to receiving sponsorship as a Ukrainian Humanitarian Parolee. She landed at Portland International Airport last July and since has settled in, albeit temporarily, at the Oregon City home of friends of a friend. 

Tetiana received official recognition of her education in social work and work authorization. She ran across LCSNW and the agency’s job postings. By October she was interviewing for a job as a Medical Case Manager helping Ukrainians and others in need. 

“I want to be helpful to my country. It’s survivor syndrome. You feel guilty because you are here and you want to do something for your country even though you are not there,” Tetiana said. 

“What I realized once I started to do this work is that I need these people to survive. They are like me, they speak my languages and I need to use my language. It doesn’t matter what city in Ukraine they left, they feel like my family,” she said. 

“One year ago my life changed. We lost our lives one year ago. I lost my job, my friends, my plans, my apartment. I had to leave and I lost everything, really.”