Mother and daughter fleeing Ukraine find refuge in Portland, support from LCSNW

by | Jun 26, 2024 | Refugees & Immigrants | 0 comments

LCS Northwest helped Marianna Liashenko, pictured, and her mother find housing and household furnishings shortly after they arrived in Oregon late last year.

Last year, 32-year-old Marianna Liashenko was living in an area of Ukraine bordering Crimea, at the heart of Russia’s aggression into the territory.

“Rockets were exploding directly over my city,” Marianna explained recently. 

“Russian troops had come to our city in the first days of the war (in early 2022),” she said. Her father died not long before the invasion, leaving Marianna’s mother a widow and the mother and daughter on their own.

Russian attacks escalated into 2022, and eventually, by early 2023, the pair knew they needed to escape. “I decided my mom and I should go somewhere that would be safe, and where I could speak the language (English).”

Knowing their lives were at risk every day, Marianna did her best to find a family that would sponsor them as quickly as possible. She then began arranging travel for her mom and herself.

Marianna’s decision propelled her and her mother toward their next destination: California, U.S.A. The pair landed in the United States on September 30, 2023, and joined their Uniting for Ukraine sponsor family. However, with the sponsors in a rural area far from public transit, it soon became clear the stay would be short.

“The family lives in the mountains, far away from the city,” said Marianna, who, like her mother, has never driven a car. “Every time we needed to do anything, we’d need to be driven.”

It didn’t take long for Marianna to start figuring out their next move. “I Googled ‘Portland Ukrainian Community’ and found a social media group that was helping Ukrainian people in Portland.” She said she was exploring West Coast cities for affordability, good public transit and availability of assistance for people from Ukraine.

That’s how she learned about Lutheran Community Services Northwest. “I found contact info for Nataliya Sereda,” she said.

Nataliya is a Counselor and Peer Support Specialist in our Multicultural Counseling Services program, which is part of our MCS District. Nataliya, who arrived here from Ukraine six years ago, told Marianna that she would need to be in Oregon to receive assistance from LCSNW.

“Nataliya told us, ‘the moment you are in Oregon, call me or come to our office and I can help you,’” Marianna said. 

LCSNW Case Manager Nataliya Sereda in a field of daffodils.

LCSNW Case Manager Nataliya Sereda helped Marianna and her mother once they arrived in Oregon.

Nataliya was able to fulfill that promise after Marianna and her mother arrived in Portland last December. 

“I am honored to be part of the LCSNW team that does so much to support refugees and help them get back on their feet in a new country,” said Nataliya, who works in our Beaverton, Oregon, office.

Nataliya, along with others on the Multicultural Counseling Services team, helped Marianna with a long list of needs. The team has helped the women find housing, which is especially challenging for newcomers who do not have local rental history or landlords to provide a recommendation.

 LCSNW’s rental assistance program helped the family pay their first month’s rent. This allowed Marianna some time to become job-ready.

With guidance from our program, Marianna decided to pursue training for health care interpretation. In April, she went to work for Catholic Community Charities as a Residence Services Coordinator. Her mom is enrolled in English classes.

Meanwhile, the pair can still turn to Nataliya when they have questions or need help navigating their new lives. “She has guided me through every question, and I have a lot of questions,” Marianna said. “We didn’t know anyone in the U.S. It was very hard for me to navigate on my own.”

In the video below, Marianna explains one of the things she’s noticed that makes life in Oregon different than in her home country.