The Chance to Reconnect

April 1, 2024
• A world away, a Ukrainian mother and daughter find each other in Massachusetts. This is part four of a multi-part Needham Local series on refugee resettlement and its face in Needham.

When Olena Diado returned to Ukraine to visit her husband Anton in March 2023, evidence of the ongoing conflict was apparent: their home stood just 70 meters from the epicenter of a bomb strike.

“At that moment, she felt how scary it is,” her daughter Oksana Saluk translated. “She felt real fear. You know every minute you can die. You don’t know what could happen to your close family.”

Diado had relocated to Poland at the start of the war, leaving Anton behind in Kozova, in western Ukraine. Saluk, as well as Diado’s 80-year-old mother, also decided to move outside Ukraine’s borders. For more than a year, Saluk and Diado did not see each other. Living in the region still poses extreme danger, Saluk said, and resources are scarce.

Anton still sees rockets flying overhead but remains in the country, taking care of their family home, as well as their cat and paralyzed dog. He is determined to stand his ground, his wife said.

“It’s his life,” Diado said. “He defends our house… He built this house. He’s waiting for us in Ukraine when the war will finish. He’s a real patriot.”

Moving to the United States meant guaranteed safety, but Diado and Saluk sacrificed their proximity to their home and life as they knew it. Diado arrived in November, and Saluk followed her a month later. Their reunion was celebrated with hugs and tears.

Diado now lives in Needham, just a few miles away from her daughter, who lives in Chestnut Hill.

Another Ukrainian newcomer referred Diado to the Needham Community Council, where she found connection and reprieve. The NCC serves as a pivotal resource for Diado, as she both learns the language of her new home and builds relationships with her neighbors.

“They are like doctors of my soul,” Diado said of the NCC staff.

Back in Ukraine, the whole family operated their own businesses: Diado ran an insurance company, her husband still runs a car service center and Saluk had her own crafting and decoration business.

Business stopped at the onset of the war, which became another reason for Diado to move to Poland, where she could continue to make a living. But when income slowed, Diado said she decided to relocate to the United States. She now works as a personal care assistant at Hebrew SeniorLife, where she pays it forward, caring for community members as they have cared for her.

“I’m very happy that I’m here because I can help everyone,” Diado said. “I work a lot.”

“It’s true,” Saluk interjected. “My mom works two shifts all the time. She is happy she can help our family.”

The family continues to support their relatives in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.

The language barrier exists, but it doesn’t prevent Diado from sparking dialogue with other Needhamites. She found one of her English tutors spontaneously — she recognized the sweater Diado was wearing after Diado had thrifted it through the NCC.

Diado continues practicing her English with other locals, both in private and group lessons.

“Needham helped us a lot with English lessons,” Saluk said.

During her stay in Poland, Saluk volunteered for the Fundacja Rozwoju Ukrainy, or the Foundation for the Development of Ukraine, which helped deliver humanitarian aid and translated documents. That work is still important to her, and she’s taken up the cause in Greater Boston.

Living in Massachusetts has kept part of the family together. Saluk said she is eternally thankful for her financial sponsors.

“They gave me the opportunity to come and be with my mom,” she said. “We are very grateful to Needham because people from there united families.”

Should the war end, Diado said she will absolutely return to her home. Visiting home is much more difficult now, and she misses her husband and their pets.

“I want to live in Ukraine. I don’t want to think about it right now because it’s very sad to watch the news and hear the war will be everlasting,” Diado said. “Right now, I just don’t think about it.”

The good news is her daughter is here with her.

“It’s so wonderful that we are together,” Saluk said, “and I’m really happy that I’m in a safe place.”

Previous installments in this series detailed the financial hurdles newcomers face, how the Needham Public Schools aim to accommodate new arrivals and one Ukrainian woman’s new life in Needham. A future installment will cover how refugees can find resource networks amidst fellow residents.

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