MADISON, Ala. (WHNT) — Corey and Kelly Wheeler live with their children at their home in Madison. Pretty soon, they’ll have two new additions to their home, Ukrainian refugees.
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, Ukrainian people have feared for their lives. Many are seeking refuge in other countries.
“When conflict erupted, it really just pulled on our hearts, to do our part and help people,” Corey said.
The Wheelers will be hosting a woman named Viktoria and her son, Artem. The pair are originally from Melitopol, in southeastern Ukraine, but have fled to Israel amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The Wheelers were able to get connected to Viktoria and her son by going through the website Welcome.US. The site gives people fleeing Afghanistan and Ukraine a place to connect with people all over the world who want to host them.
The Wheelers said the site allows both parties to create profiles and find a good fit for each other.
“You set a profile with your family, your location, and then Ukrainians are able to do the same thing on their side, and then they’re able to check through and see if there are families that would want to unite with,” Kelly said.”
Kelly said they feel blessed to have the resources and support to be able to offer their support.
“We have the space and we knew we had the support of the community, so we just needed a way to meet a Ukrainian family to help them over here.” She said, “The Welcome.US page really helped us.”
Once the Wheelers were connected with Viktoria, they were able to go through the Uniting for Ukraine program. The program provides a pathway for Ukrainian citizens to come to the U.S. and stay for a temporary two-year period when sponsored by a person in the U.S.
“As a sponsor, you sign an affidavit with the U.S. government, basically the immigration service, that you will be financially responsible for the people you are sponsoring,” Corey said. “So we took that upon ourselves and we’re very much ready to take on that responsibility.
Kelly echoed that statement. Saying she is happy to help Viktoria and Artem get on their feet, and especially helping Artem get back in school.
“Viktoria is the most amazing, positive, inspiring person through all the challenges that she’s been through,” Kelly said.
She said Viktoria and Artem fled with only a backpack.
The Wheelers have started a GoFundMe page to collect financial donations to help create a “nest egg” for Viktoria. The page has already raised more than $5,000. Additionally, the Wheelers say the community support has been overwhelming. “We’ve been absolutely blown away by the generosity and the support that we’ve gotten,” Corey said.
He said they’ve received nearly everything Viktoria will need to start a new home, including a washer and dryer and furnishings. Kelly said she posted the story to a local Facebook page, and “within 24 hours I had almost an entire apartment furnished.”
The Wheelers encourage other people in North Alabama to open their hearts and homes, if possible.
“If any other family wants to do this, it’s not like you are taking it on on your own” Kelly said.
“We have the resources in the school system,” she said. “The state of Alabama has case managers that will work with these refugees to get them government services that they qualify for.”
The Wheelers recommend anyone interesting in helping out to go through the Welcome.US and Uniting for Ukraine programs. Corey acknowledged it may be a little difficult at first, but they are happy to help out.
“It’s going to be a little bit of a culture shock,” he said of what Viktoria and her son will go through. “Obviously the cultures are different, the language, you know she speaks decent English, but is going to have to improve on that.”
“We’re really just looking to put our arms around them and just show them hospitality and love and provide the resources for them to be successful on their own in the long run,” Corey said.
Corey explained while they are sponsoring the family, “it’s still a temporary situation.” “While she [Viktoria] is here, she’ll be eligible for a work permit at which point she can of course, eventually support herself, and then she’ll have to apply for different immigration status. Otherwise, when the two years is up, she’d have to leave,” he added.
The Wheelers tell News 19 that Viktoria and Artem are booked on a flight to the U.S. on September 2nd, and they should arrive in Alabama on the 3rd.