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Ukrainian refugees become part-owners of Utah pizza restaurant

Posted at 10:12 PM, Mar 13, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-20 12:13:11-04

WEST JORDAN, Utah — Monday marked one year since Yuri Kalmazan, Albina Smykovska and their two young daughters arrived in Utah from wartorn Ukraine.

In that time, they've been able to make remarkable progress on their road to the "American Dream."

At Monday's open house at Sergio's Pizza in South Jordan, it was hard for the couple to believe how far they've come.

"If somebody tells us one and a half years ago, [I'd think] it's a joke. It's not true," Kalmazan said.

Dozens of people came out to support these hard-working new neighbors as they rebuild their lives half a world away from their homeland — now the co-owners of Sergio's.

"So many times I look back over the last year and I think, 'I had no idea this is what my life would turn into,' but I'm so grateful," said Michelle Demille, who has been at the center of the Ukrainian couple's life transformation.

After receiving a phone call last year, she took the family in, not knowing for how long.

"They are so grateful that we took a chance on them; that we opened up our home and gave them a safe place," Demille said.

One week after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the family gave away their dogs and cat and embarked on a journey with the help of a friend who gave them all his money so they could escape.

They went from Ukraine to Moldova, Romania, Hungary, and then Slovakia.

Then to Vienna, where they got their COVID-19 certifications, then to Prague, where they boarded a flight to Paris.

Then from Paris to Mexico City, and then Tijuana, where they crossed into the United States and were brought to Utah by Kalmazan's aunt.

They arrived at Reese and Michelle Demille's house in Cedar Hills, Utah County.

Phil Powley gave Kalmazan a job installing sprinklers.

"He did really well. He showed up early every morning at 6:00 a.m. and didn't complain," Powley said.

That work ethic, along with the fact that Kalmazan owned his own business in Ukraine, convinced Phil and his wife Meg that they should offer him 25 percent ownership of their pizza shop.

Now, one year after arriving with literally nothing, all these friends and neighbors have come to support Kalmazan and Smykovska in their new venture.

"It's incredible. It's impossible because it's so many people. I know and love these people," Kalmazan said.