Ukrainian woman reunites with foreign exchange host family 16 years later

Published: Nov. 23, 2022 at 9:07 PM CST
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DULUTH, MN. (Northern News Now) -- When Russian troops invaded Ukraine 9 months ago, the world was turned upside down for millions of people.

Since then, many families have found themselves separated, sometimes oceans apart.

“I had my family, I had my house, dog, cats, so basically my life was perfect,” Mila Mostova said.

Mostova said her life changed on February 24th, 2022, when Russia invaded Ukraine.

She and her family resided in a town just 50 miles from Kyiv.

“We woke up from the sounds that didn’t resemble anything I’d ever heard before,” Mostova said. “This is the day when the war started and this is the day when life of all Ukrainians have changed forever.”

In April, two months after the invasion, the US federal government launched a program called Uniting for Ukraine.

Americans apply to sponsor Ukrainians, who are then able to seek refuge in the US for at least two years.

That program was an opportunity for Mostova and her kids, 9-year-old Veronika and 6-year-old Severyn, to flee to safety.

“This decision didn’t come really easy for me, it was probably one of the most hardest decisions in my life to leave, because originally I wanted to stay and fight and help,” Mostova said. “But I realized it wasn’t safe for my kids to be there in Ukraine.”

For Sue VanGuilder, Uniting for Ukraine was an opportunity to reunite with Mostova, who she hosted as a foreign exchange student 16 years ago and kept in contact with all those years.

VanGuilder said she wanted to do everything she could to help Mostova and her family.

“It was very scary, I wanted to be on the phone and talk to her all the time, but it wasn’t easy to get a hold of her,” VanGuilder said.

After their applications were accepted, Mostova and her kids arrived in Minnesota in August.

Since then, they’ve been living with VanGuilder.

The kids started school in September, and both Mostova and VanGuilder said they’ve adjusted well, learning English and making friends.

“It means a lot that they’re here, that they’re safe, I’m excited for her to be safe in America, but also to find her own place here while she’s here,” VanGuilder said.

Mostova is waiting for her permit to work to be accepted, then hopes to find a job and her own place.

She said whether she goes back to Ukraine depends on her children’s safety.

“If the war ends soon, I’d like to go back and continue my life in Ukraine,” Mostova said. “But if it doesn’t, if the war doesn’t end anytime soon, I’d like to stay here, in the safe place. In a place where me and my kids can lead a normal, safe life.”

Mostova’s husband had to remain in Ukraine, as current law there bans men ages 18 to 60 from leaving the country during a time of war.

Mostova said they’re able to communicate with her husband about every 4 to 5 days.

A GoFundMe has been set up to help Mostova get on her own feet until she’s approved to work.