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One year after Russia invaded their homeland, family from Ukraine reunited in Chicago

Ukrainian refugee family reunited in Chicago
Ukrainian refugee family reunited in Chicago 02:14

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Friday marks one year since Russia's invasion of Ukraine. As families are fighting to reunite with one another, one family was finally brought together in Chicago after months of pain and anguish.

"All of the plans that we had planned for, all of the desires that we had, changed overnight," Kateryna Shvartsman said through an interpreter.

Kateryna said this past year has been unbelievable for her family.

"We stayed with friends, and we stayed in the apartment, and finally we stayed in a large underground basement complex that had once been a parking garage," said her brother's girlfriend, Darina Shekun.

Kateryna and her brother Vladyslav Shenhella separated when the war in Ukraine broke out. Kateryna, her son, and Darina were all together in Mariupol, sheltering in a basement just before it collapsed under Russian shelling.

"Only five minutes after we left our basement, and gotten in our car and started driving, already they were shelling," Kateryna said. "We had written on our cars that they were children and civilians in there, but they didn't care."

In a nearby hospital, Kateryna's and Vlad's mother was recovering from COVID-19. They found out later she died when that hospital was bombed, and they knew they had to abandon their home.

"We held hands, and we cryied because we realize that this could be the end of us," Darina said.

The group was split. Kataeryna and her son made it to the U.S., to Chicago; Darina and Vlad made it to Poland.

"We promised when we heard that Kateryna made it to the United States that we would come, but really, we had no money. We had no idea," Darina said. "This wasn't just hard to imagine coming to the U.S., it seemed impossible."

Now, almost a year later, how does it feel now that they're able to be in each other's presence on the other side of this nightmare?

"We had a dream. You know, we had dreams before, but now we had a new dream of all being together again," Kateryna said.

Kataeryna and her fiancée pulled off what they all thought was impossible. They sponsored the rest of their family to come to the United States.

"We don't feel like refugees here. We feel like we can start our lives over again," Darina said.

Nonprofit Refugee One helped the family settle once they got to Chicago, and are continuing to provide them aid.

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