Blanding Family helping friends resettle after fleeing Ukraine

News for the past few weeks has centered on the Russian military invasion of Ukraine. For many in San Juan County, the media coverage is the first introduction to the millions of people currently suffering from the war in eastern Europe.

But for Blanding resident Kendall Laws, the conflict is very familiar.  From 2004 to 2006, Laws spent two years in western Ukraine as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

He says he created life-long bonds with the people there. Laws says over the past few weeks, he has been in contact with those friends to check on their wellbeing. He says the people he knows are hopeful, despite daunting challenges. “A lot of the men are trying to get their families out of the country while they stay,” Laws explained in an interview with Red Rock 92.7 FM. “Some of the wives have decided to stay as well and fight. It’s been tragic to watch and heartbreaking when you see pictures of streets that you walked down, and know the people that lived there and hear their stories.”

Laws says others have been fortunate to be able to leave Ukraine where many wait in Poland for their next steps. Among those refugees in Poland are friends of Laws, Pavel and Nataliia and their five children ranging in age from 15 to three years old.

On February 27, three days after the invasion began, the family left their home, their farm, their goats, and the family dog to make their way to Poland. “They made that difficult decision knowing that for them because of their personal circumstances if they left they would likely never be able to return,” Laws said. “They left in a vehicle with seating for four, and the seven of them each took a backpack, and off they went.”

The family is now in Poland, waiting for funds to be able to fly to Canada, which has an easier resettlement process than the US, to restart their lives.  While the family has just what they carried out on their back, they are eager to arrive to a new home and get to work. “That’s one thing about the Ukrainian people is they are not slouches,” Laws says. “They like to work and they are hard workers and so that’s the next step for a lot of them is to start contributing back to society again.”

Pavel has worked for 11 years as an engineer, while Nataliia works in marketing. Pavel writes that his children are fluent in English and good students. Several children are musicians playing piano and violin, they are also active in judo and swimming. On making the difficult decision to leave their home country, Nataliia said, “It's time for us to go because we just want our children to live in a place with peaceful skies.”

Kendall and his wife Emily are busy working with friends in Canada to help prepare work and a place for the family when they arrive.

A GoFundMe account has been set up for the family. The Laws have also taken donations via Venmo and cash to help fund the Ukrainian family's expenses.  “One hundred percent of the money we pick up will either go to this family or some of the other families that we know that are in similar situations,” said Laws.

Pavel and Nataliia have asked that if people donate, they hope they will share their name, so when the family is resettled they can send thank you notes. “That's something that's very important to them because asking for help is not a Ukrainian trait typically,” Laws explained, “So that is one way that they could feel comfortable with asking for help if they could express their gratitude in some way.” While Laws is happy to accept donations for his refugee friends, he also hopes that people who want to give do so through whatever means are right for them. “I don’t care where people donate or how they help,” said Laws. “My goal as much as anything is to raise awareness of the situation and the people and their plight.”

The GoFundMe page can be found here. The Venmo address for the Law’s is: @Emily-Laws-3 A link to the full morning show conversation with Kendall Laws can be found here.

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