Sashkina says she made the difficult decision to leave her home, her job, relatives and friends as well as most all of their belongings behind after bombs were falling on their hometown of Odessa, a port and tourist city on the Black Sea.
“The first bombing was on the first day of war, 24th of February. We just listened to this bombing, and it’s like, every day, maybe nine times, seven times, depends on the day. One day it was 16 times,” said Sashkina. “One building just near me, near the big supermarket where I usually go not far from kids’ school, it was destroyed and people died.”
Through a journey that took nearly two months, Sashkina says they stayed at a refugee hotel in Romania where they were provided with shelter, food and medical care. Eventually, they were able to get a Canadian visa and made their way to Champion Township, where they are staying with her boyfriend, in the United States as part of a temporary humanitarian program.
The girls were enrolled at Central Elementary just 10 days before the end of the school year.
“We are kind of tired to wait how all this nightmare finished. I mean, we was waiting and we was thinking like one month or two months, but as we see now, it’s not going to finish right now, so we just stopped doing this and decided to settle here,” said Sashkina.
At the school the twins have quickly made new friends and settled in with their second-grade classmates.
“I will tell you, on their very first day here the language was not a barrier at all. For example, at recess time the children were all outside playing and took their hands and they were jumping and playing on the equipment, and you can just tell that love is the universal language,” said Central Elementary Principal Alexandra Nannicola.
Nannicola, who also teaches yoga classes, says through her yoga classes she was acquainted with Alona Mason, who is also from Ukraine. She asked Mason if she would help as an interpreter for the twins and Mason says she agreed asking for nothing in return.
“Sasha and Natasha, they are beautiful little girls. They are really really smart and they are also really excited,” said Mason. “Really, it’s going to be good for them to play with the kids and to be here and safe.”
Sashkina says she is planning to have the girls enrolled in third grade at Central Elementary school for next year after spending the summer with educational materials and helping them learn English as a second language. But she also hopes some day she might be able to return to Odessa.
While here she has become involved in a volunteer group that is helping to raise funds to help provide supplies including military gear and food to Ukrainian military and police.
And while she stays in touch with friends and relatives who remain in Ukraine, she says they are all grateful for the help their country is getting from the United States.
“Every war is a political game, but I think the U.S. helps a lot by all the military equipment and that’s the main thing now because Ukraine desperately needs it,” she said.