Learning the A-B-C’s as a Refugee

January 12, 2024
• This is part one of a multi-part Needham Local series on refugee resettlement and its face in Needham.

As a child in Ukraine, Liudmyla Moseichuk took English classes throughout school. Her English proficiency has only improved, as she now speaks it every day while checking out customers at Trader Joe’s.

At the onset of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Moseichuk, her husband and their two young children resided in the southern region of the country, between Odessa and Mykolaiv. By last winter, sounds of alarms and explosions had become routine, but Moseichuk said they increased in frequency and severity.

Living in a country at war took a toll on her mental health, but she continued to work to save enough money to send to the Ukrainian army and their parents, who still live there.

Though they didn’t want to leave, the situation appeared increasingly dire. Moseichuk said it was a “difficult decision.” The family of four moved to Florida in April 2023, settling in Needham about a month later. She is often still triggered by planes flying overhead and the notorious horn of the Commuter Rail.

“I’m scared of the sound, but I also understand that you live a life and I can live life too,” Moseichuk said. “The sounds help me because it’s like normal life.”

While the journey is challenging, Moseichuk isn’t alone.

The need for support services has only increased in recent months, said Needham Community Council Executive Director Sandy Robinson. The council is a nonprofit that runs a food pantry, thrift store, transportation services, educational programming and more.

Ukrainian refugees have found solace and community in Needham, and Robinson said the NCC expects a similar wave of new arrivals from Israel and Palestine amid that conflict. While some manage to connect with loved ones for housing and support, there’s only so much those relatives can do, Robinson said.

“They’ve had to walk away from everything,” Robinson said.

“They come with one suitcase,” NCC Program Director Judy Lambert added.

The language barrier is an unavoidable obstacle for living and working in the United States, and while the council has always hosted English language learning classes, they’re now looking to implement beginners English courses specifically geared toward people with no English fluency.

While her 10-year-old daughter had little difficulty enrolling in school, Moseichuk said she struggled to find a pre-Kindergarten program for her son that wasn’t already full and wasn’t too expensive.

What additionally complicated the matter was that her son didn’t speak any English when they first moved to Massachusetts. His frustration and upset would result in tears and questions. He asks every day when they can move back to Ukraine, and it’s hard for Moseichuk to explain the danger in returning.

During his preschool classes in Ukraine, Moseichuk’s then 3-year-old son was routinely herded underground during bombing periods. His teachers told him and his classmates that it was just a play, Mosiechuk said.

“It wasn’t an education in a normal way,” she said. “It was hard. It was hard mentally.”

They likely will be unable to resume their old life, as the region in Ukraine in which they previously lived is littered with mines that may remain active for decades.

“If it will be safe, then we will go back, of course, because we have family. We have friends there,” Moseichuk said. “I don’t know. It depends.”

Luckily, Moseichuk found support in the NCC — she said she has used their food pantry, and staffers have helped her family gain access to public pools and sign up for camps. Needham has stepped up for Moseichuk in a profound way, she said.

“I was crying all the time when I met someone who just started talking with me and supported us,” she said. “It was very touching.”

It still takes Moseichuk time to translate her fast-moving thoughts into English, but her job offers some important language immersion. She’s a videographer and video editor by trade, but in her new line of work, she gets to give back to a community that has already given her so much.

“For me, I like this feeling when you can help someone,” she said. “You help people to understand which product they need and where it is, and it’s an amazing job.”

Future installments in this series will cover how new arrivals can navigate the American financial system, receive support in Needham Public Schools and find resource networks amidst fellow residents.

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