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Utah couple reunited at SLC airport with family who fled Ukraine

Posted at 9:17 PM, Mar 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-20 23:17:31-04

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah couple can breathe a sigh of relief now that their family has fled Ukraine and landed safely in Salt Lake City.

For Oksana and Mark Dirkes, it has not been a smooth process getting Oksana’s parents from Ukraine to Utah. Her parents, Mykola and Alla, drove from Kyiv to Romania, road-tripped to Budapest, caught a flight to Amsterdam, then flew from the Netherlands to Utah, where they landed around 2 p.m. Sunday afternoon.

“We’re all very emotional. It’s like, you cannot believe your eyes,” described Oksana.

The family was able to embrace each other for the first time in years after spending weeks watching war unfold in Ukraine.

Mykola and Alla live in the country’s capital, Kyiv, and moved to the outskirts of the city when the crisis began.

“Just over the last couple of weeks, it’s been getting to the point where they can hear and see some of the explosions and attacks, even from there,” said Mark. “That’s why last week, last Tuesday, they finally made the decision, ‘You know what, we need to get out of here.’”

Oksana’s parents, her sister, and her sister’s children left Ukraine Thursday. Her sister and her children landed safely in Munich, Germany, where they’ll be staying for the time being.

Mykola and Alla packed all they could in just one bag.

“That’s one bag. That’s it, right there,” said Mark. “Both of them — everything they own.”

The journey to America hasn’t been an easy one. Mark said the U.S. wouldn’t issue any refugee visas. They were able to use visitor visas from their visit to Utah three years ago.

“They were able to skip that and come right here, which probably very few Ukrainians that are fleeing are able to do that,” he said.

Although they’ve made it to their destination, the stress isn’t over. Their home and possessions are still in Ukraine and three family members stayed behind to fight.

“It’s real and it’s very scary and it's terrible. I wish I could pull everybody out of there just for them to be safe,” said Oksana.

It’s unknown how long Mykola and Alla will stay in Utah, but right now the family is safe and together, and that’s what matters.

“We’ve been waiting for them for a long time. I think now it’s a big relief. Everybody is here and safe and we’re reunited, finally,” said Oksana.

Mark told the airline about Mykola and Alla’s story, and the couple was upgraded to first-class for their international flight to Utah.

He said the family will celebrate their first meal reunited again at one of his father-in-law’s favorite fast-food chains, Del Taco.