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Ukrainian family flees to Utah with help from community donations

Posted at 5:13 PM, Mar 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-11 19:25:50-05

SALT LAKE CITY — Active tourist visas and several thousand dollars from the community helped a Ukrainian family flee the country and make it safely to Utah.

UTAH FOR UKRAINE: Help assist Ukrainian refugees

Marlie Salamatin’s in-laws, Vitaly, Natalia, and Yura arrived in Salt Lake City last week after seven days straight of traveling. They say they feel blessed to be in the U.S. and are grateful to be safe.

“From the time that they started their journey to come here, it was Wednesday to Wednesday. It was a full 7 days of them sitting in a car, trying to cross the border in Ukraine, trying to get some rest in their family’s home in Moldova,” said Salamatin.

The family even slept in airports along the way, flying out of Romania to Vienna, then Frankfurt, then Denver, and finally Utah.

“I’m excited, people here very welcome me,” said 15-year-old Yura Chernega.

Once the bombing started earlier this month, the Chernega's knew they had to drop everything and leave. Yura, who started ninth grade this week, recalled the last few days in his home country.

“Typical day, do my homework, maybe hang out with my friends, fell asleep, woke up in the morning… it’s like war started, really confused and sad,” he said.

But leaving proved challenging, and probably wouldn’t have been possible if they didn’t have travel visas from coming to Marlie and Igor’s wedding a few years ago.

“When we first got here we were tired, but we’re really happy that we’re safe now,” said Vitaly Chernega.

Yura's new classmates have already welcomed him by decorating his locker with notes of support.

“When I open it, I see the Ukrainian flag, some hearts,” said Yura.

Now that he's in Utah, he can’t stop thinking about his friends back at home.

“I’m blessed to be here, a lot of my friends, try to get out of country, try to save their lives.”

A few weeks ago, several thousand dollars were raised within hours from Marlie’s coworkers at Weave to help her family escape.

“It’s a very happy ending, we were able to get them here," said Salamatin. "When they got here, we were all in tears, just because you don’t know if they’re all going to be alive,”

Salamatin said the family found a place to live in Saratoga Springs and that the visas will enable them to stay in the U.S. for up to a year.

In the meantime, the Chernegas will be working to get refugee status through the help of immigration experts.