MADISON, Ala. (WHNT) — A mother and son who fled Ukraine amid the war with Russia have arrived in Madison, Alabama.
Now that the pair have arrived, News 19 caught up with them at the Wheeler’s home.
“I’m not believing now, that I’m in the U.S.,” said the mother, Viktoriia Kuznetsova sitting on the couch next to Kelly Wheeler. “She keeps saying ‘pinch me,'” Wheeler added.
Viktoriia and her seven-year-old son Artem have had quite the journey since fleeing their home city of Melitopol, Ukraine. They initially fled to Israel for several weeks.
Viktoriia told News 19 that the past few months have been hard, especially because they had to give up their life in Ukraine.
“So I decided to go out, and many people decided to go out, not too many people stayed inside [Melitopol, Ukraine]” she said.
This past weekend, the pair flew from Tel Aviv, Israel to New York, to Atlanta, before finally arriving at Huntsville International Airport. (HSV)
When they arrived at HSV, the Wheeler family was waiting for them with welcome signs.
The warm welcome continued on the drive home when both families were surprised by a welcome party from the neighborhood.
“The neighborhood got together, made posters, and they had a welcome party as we drove by coming home from the airport, so that was really special,” said Wheeler.
Wheeler said she purchased 50 Ukrainian flags that she offered to people in the neighborhood, and was overwhelmed by the support. Nearly every mailbox now has the blue and yellow flag affixed to it.
In the days since Viktoriia and Artem’s arrival, it has been a blur of filling out paperwork and getting settled in.
Wheeler said they’ve been busy enrolling in “social services, Medicaid, applying for social security, a bank, and a work authorization, and school.”
Amid the chaos of all of that, Artem had his first day of school on Wednesday. He’ll be attending a school in the Madison City School system, where he will be taking regular classes, and learning English.
Viktoriia said she is proud of her son for being so resilient, as this is his third school, this year.
“In Ukraine go to school, in Israel go to school, and again in the U.S. first class, but he’s a hero,” she said.
“When I look at my son, when he’s happy, I’m happy,” said Viktoriia.
The Wheeler family said the outpouring of community support has been amazing, and they encourage other families who are able, to get involved.
You can learn more about how the two families connected by reading our previous story.