Ukraine widow spending first Mother’s Day without husband, more than 5000 miles from home

Author: eyeoncleveland.com founder John Kerezy

PARMA, May 8, 2022 – Mother’s Day is celebrated in the U.S. and many places around the world, including Ukraine. But along with thousands of other recent war widows, this will be Katya Krasnorutska’s first Mother’s Day without her husband. 

Katya lived in a village near Kharkov with Maxim, her husband, and their 11-year-old son Yaroslav. Life was good for the family. Katya was a teacher and a section leader at School No. 11 with Advanced Study in Languages and Mathematics in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city (pop. 1.4 million), just 25 miles from the Russian border.  Maxim worked as a veterinary medicine specialist. They had a home, and enjoyed vacations and a fun family life. 

Katya, her son Yaroslav, and her husband Maxim on holiday

That all changed with Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on February 24. “It began with heavy bombing. We stopped classes on Thursday, Russians took over the area almost immediately afterwards on Friday,” Katya remembers. “They spread the word that all residents must remain indoors, and anyone going outside would be shot.” 

Like many other families, Maxim and Katya had stocked up on food and made preparations in case the Russians invaded. But no one expected the barbaric and brutal behavior of the Russian soldiers. “They looted all of the stores and other shops,” describes Katya. “We stayed in homes 24/7 for two weeks straight.” Families huddled together in basements or in rooms in the center of their home for protection against constant artillery shelling. 

“Everyone avoided the Russians as much as possible. We remained very cautious,” Katya adds. She and other civilians were right to be that way, as officials in Kharkiv now estimate that Russian soldiers killed at least 700 civilians in and around the city. Nearly 1,150 buildings of all types were destroyed in the first month of fighting there, according to Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov. 

Eventually residents would take brief breaks outside and visit neighbors, but the threat of Russian invaders was constant. On March 25, Katya and Maxim had three friends over to their home for breakfast. “One of the visitors and Maxim stepped outside, but in a few seconds we heard a horrible noise. My friend ran back in, screaming that Maxim had been shot,” Katya recalls. 

A Russian solder fired a bullet which struck Maxim in the head and penetrated his skull. He was bleeding profusely. 

”I tried calling for help, but no ambulance would come. They said it was too dangerous,” Katya explains. “Eventually I went outside and dragged Maxim into the house. A neighbor went out on foot to try to get a doctor, but later I learned that the Russians shot and killed him as well.” 

Maxim and Katya

Medical professionals gave Katya treatment advice over the phone, but it was too late to save Maxim’s life. 

It turned out that the Russians were exceptionally brutal as they were preparing to battle Ukrainian solders returning to the area.  

“Later that same day Ukrainian army forces came and said that, for our safety, they were going to evacuate all civilians from our village. They gave us just a few minutes to pack,” Katya recalls. “Friends in our neighborhood advised us to go, saying they would bury Maxim. Yaroslav and I gathered belongings, and left our home and Maxim.” 

Ironically, Katya and her son found safety in the basement of the very same school where she taught, in Kharkiv. “Our school had been turned into an aid center, and my principal let us stay there,” Katya says. 

Maxim and Katya have a relative, an aunt, who lives in the Cleveland area. “She heard about our plight weeks later, and she contacted friends at Slavic Full Gospel Church who helped us,” Katya recalls. “We eventually were moved by train from Kharkiv to western Ukraine, which was the first time in many weeks that Yaroslav and I felt safe.” 

Once in Western Ukraine, Katya’s aunt was able to collaborate with Slavic Full Gospel Church to help get her niece and great nephew out of danger. Kaiya and Yaroslav obtained refuge in Poland, then went by train to Germany. They flew from Frankfort to Mexico City, and were in a refugee camp there as well. Soon family was able to arrange for them to fly to Tijuana, where the State Dept. granted them Temporary Protection Status. They came into the U.S, and flew from San Diego to the East Coast, and then arrived in Cleveland on April 23. The 5,000+ mile journey took nearly two weeks.

Reading students in one of Katya’s classes at her school in Kharkiv

Now Katya and Yaroslav live with another family in an apartment on State Road in Parma. Thanks to modern technology and social communication platforms, she still is teaching via Zoom with her students in Kharkiv. 

“Right now I’m just thankful to God for safety from the war, and for peaceful skies here,” Katya says. “My students in Kharkiv ask ‘when will you come back?’ but for now I’m grateful that Yaroslav and I are protected from the horrors that war has visited on me and my fellow Ukrainians.”

Katya hopes to enroll at Cuyahoga Community College and master English through ESL courses in the near future. 

Assist “Help For Ukraine” on Friday, May 13 

Moody Radio Cleveland, 103.3 FM

Moody Radio Cleveland is collaborating with Slavic Full Gospel Church to present “Help for Ukraine” a live radio telecast from the church in Broadview Heights on Friday, May 13, from 6 to 9 a.m. The station’s “Brian and Janelle” morning show will broadcast from the church, and listeners to Moody Radio Cleveland and others who tune in will hear stories from eyewitnesses and relief workers about the war in Ukraine, and how they can help.  Details coming soon, but anyone can contribute to the relief and rescue efforts of Slavic Full Gospel Church by visiting this website: 

NOTE: Watch eyeoncleveland.com for more Ukraine relief and rescue stories. You can reach Professor Kerezy at john.kerezy@jkerezy.edu

https://sfgchurch.churchcenter.com/giving/to/ukraine-aid

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