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 | By Keisha Espinal

A Warm and Loving Welcome

May 9, 2023 I Loud sirens, surrounded by darkness, sitting in a basement hoping for the best; that is what Kate and her daughters, Valeriia and Alisa, lived through before coming to the United States to seek refuge from the war in Ukraine.

Two months ago, they had to flee their home in Ukraine, taking only what they could carry, and seek refuge in the U.S. They settled in the St. Petersburg area thanks to housing assistance provided by a local parish. The daughters, who are in second grade and pre-kindergarten, are starting to feel a sense of normalcy thanks to students, faculty and families of St. Patrick Catholic School in Largo, who have welcomed them with loving kindness.

“Having to leave home was a scary and terrible time for me and my daughters,” Kate said. “But that was the decision I had to make for my family. It was a difficult decision because we thought things would get better in Ukraine, but after a year, I had to make the decision to leave.”

The war and the escape to safety has traumatized the family, but they are moving forward with hope.

“It was very long and difficult process to cross the border and get here,” Kate said. “I am also still trying to adapt, and I had my worries for the girls and their transition back to school. I thought it would be difficult for them, but they have adapted very well and have already made friends.”

St. Patrick Catholic School has been a light of hope for many families, including families from Ghana, Congo, Venezuela, and other countries.

“I believe that as a Catholic school, we should be open and available to anyone that wants to be a part of what we are doing here,” said Principal, Keith Galley.

Galley stated, “The Diocese of St. Petersburg has been very supportive of me over my seven years. We have been able to help students who have experienced difficult situations.”

Thanks to the efforts of many, the Ukrainian students have had the support to attend school and get the extra tutoring help that they need.

“Between many families and me, we have been able to make sure that they can attend school and get the supplies they need.” Galley stated.

On most days, Galley and his daughter take the girls to and from school. On days he is unable, other families step in to help.

“It is important to us to help families in need,” said Galley. “Every situation is different, and each family has different needs. With the help of the community, whether it’s churches, food banks, or different individuals, we all gather to make things possible for those in need.”

Kate and her family are grateful for the opportunity the community has given her.

“I would like to thank the principal, and everyone involved for helping us and treating us well. Thank you for everything.” Kate said.

Alisa and Mason playing in the classroom sandbox during break time. Photo by Julie Wintermeier
Kate Anokhova with her two daughters, Valerria and Alisa. Photo by Keishla Espinal.