CHAMPION – After fleeing from Ukraine with their mother, twin 7-year old sisters are experiencing life in America and are attending second grade at Champion Central Elementary School.
Nataliya Sashkina and her two daughters, Oleksandra “Sasha” and Natalia “Natasha” Khobta, fled Odessa and had a two-month journey to get to the United States to be with her boyfriend, Jeremie Easterday of Champion.
Sashkina said she and her daughters fled in a vehicle in March from Ukraine to Moldova first and stayed at a refugee hotel and applied for a visa.
She said at first she did not want to leave the country, but the war with Russia forced her decision.
“We wanted to stay, but Russia was bombing my own city. They destroyed the airport and bombed shopping centers, hotels and some houses close to mine. They destroyed the grocery store where I go. I was thinking I would never escape. I am a brave woman who wanted to stay, but then I knew I had to escape, ” Sashkina said.
She said the Russians made air raids every several hours and often at night.
“We woke up the kids and everyone ran to the basement. I told my daughters it was a game and we were playing house in the basement and they would be sleeping there. It was scary all the time, and I worried so much. You could hear the bombs, ” Sashkina said.
She said one thing the war did do was temper most discussion and precaution for COVID-19.
Sashkina said when the pandemic was bad the girls had to stay at home – often for several weeks.
“When the war started, it immediately canceled COVID,” she said.
Their lives uprooted by war, Sashkina and the twins were forced on a journey through several countries before finally reaching the United States.
She was able to contact Easterday, who had been to Ukraine before and wanted to return there, but the war started in March.
Sashkina got to the United States and Champion three weeks ago. She had been in the United States 30 years ago as a teen.
She will wait and see what happens with the war before deciding to return home or to stay in America.
Her two daughters are attending the last few weeks of school after Easterday suggested to Sashkina they enroll in Champion.
She said the girls are in the same second-grade class and are becoming familiar with the school and staff and are making friends. Sashkina said this will prepare them for the next school year when they enter third grade.
“They have made friends and are involved in so many activities. That is so very important, ” she said, noting they like music, art and gym.
The girls are also taking online classes in Ukrainian, English and math from Ukraine in the evening at home.
The girls have a translator with them in class as they learn English.
“They do everything like the other children in the class. The school has been amazing helping us. The girls are very happy. They say the kids are nice and the teachers are nice. I saw them on the playground playing with all the kids. They like everything and talk about the butterflies and doing yoga, ” Sashkina said.
Over the summer the girls will receive reading and other educational materials to be more prepared for third grade.
Sasha and Natasha will turn 8 on May 19.
Principal Alexandra Nannicola said she had a friend, Alona Mason, who is from Ukraine and was contacted to see about being a translator for the sisters.
“She volunteered to come in and help the girls and get us through the rest of the school year. I had to find someone who spoke Ukrainian or Russian, ” Nannicola said.
Kelly Hendrick, a second-grade teacher, said the other students were very excited to have the twins join the class.
“The children have been very helpful and welcoming. The girls have made friends and have been off to a really good start. They are reading and learning the alphabet and math with us. They are both very smart and very involved and involved in small group work, ” Hendrick said.
Mason said teachers are seeing what the twins can do in an American classroom.
“They are learning and starting to understand what their teacher is saying. They are adjusting well to their new classroom, ” Mason said.
In music class, she said, the girls sang the Ukrainian national anthem in front of the other 50 students.
“The music teacher was able to play the song as Natasha and Sasha sang… It was really brave of them since they didn’t know anyone. I was very proud of them since it is a very long anthem. Natasha said any child in Ukraine has to learn that song, ” Mason said.
Hendrick said the singing was on one of the first days the twins were at school.
Sashkina said she was worried socializing would be a challenge for her girls, but after the first few days the two were already making friends.
Natasha and Sasha say they are like any other kid who wants to play and have fun.
Other students like having the twins in class.
Scarlett Laslo, 8, said the twins are nice.
“It’s special to have them in our class. It is hard to sometimes understand what they are saying. ” she said.
Scarlett said it is fun to have twins in class and she can tell them apart.
Alexander Tomich, 8, said he likes science and so do the sisters. He said they liked the caterpillars and butterflies activity.