Sychova family embracing new life in Marshall County

T-R PHOTO BY ROBERT MAHARRY — Roman, left, and Dasha, right, Sychova, pose for a photo at their new home in rural Marshall County along with their four kids: Bohdan, second from left, Danila, center, Diana, second from right, and Damira, second from right.

Although Roman and Dasha Sychova are happy to be living safe and sound in America with their four children, their thoughts are almost always with their friends back in Ukraine fighting in the ongoing war against Russia.

The Sychovas — who have four children between the ages of three and nine — are one of four Ukrainian families to settle in Marshall County over the last several months, arriving Nov. 1 and staying in a farmhouse owned by the Salasek family southeast of Marshalltown. Before the chaos that began last February, they lived a relatively normal life in Zaporizhzhia, a city of about 750,000 people in southeast Ukraine: Roman was a sales manager for a company that sells farm equipment, and Dasha stayed home raising the kids.

The couple, speaking in Ukrainian through translator Marina Gromov, recounted how they celebrated their nine-year wedding anniversary last February, and when they woke up the next day, the city was occupied by Russian forces. Roman could no longer work, and about 80 percent of Zaporizhzia would ultimately be destroyed.

Because of its close proximity to the frontline of the war — they can still recall hearing missiles, gunshots and bombs overhead — the Sychovas quickly decided their hometown was no longer a safe place for their children. Water, food and other basic necessities became scarce.

“We were constantly afraid. We became afraid for the life and mental health of our children,” Roman said.

They first moved to another city 300 miles west within Ukraine, but even with the opportunity to move pretty much anywhere, the prospect of ending up in the U.S. was always their preferred outcome. Roman said their knowledge of English, although limited, was a key factor along with America’s history of welcoming immigrants.

“Europe is mostly built on native people… America is basically built on immigrants,” they said. “We thought it would be easier to build our life here.”

The Sychovas have been grateful for the welcome they’ve received in Marshall County, especially through the informal network of supporters from the local faith community known as Marshalltown United for Ukraine and Jasmin Banderas at Child Abuse Prevention Services (CAPS) — Gromov called her a “life jacket” — who has assisted them in filling out paperwork for their humanitarian parole status.

They miss their old life in Ukraine, but the people they’ve met here have helped to fill the void. As Marshalltown City Councilor Mike Ladehoff, who has sponsored the Sychova family, put it, “We’re family now.”

Roman is already actively working to improve his English speaking skills, and with his background in agricultural sales, he hopes to find a job in that industry here in central Iowa. He’s also found himself appreciating the pace of life in a smaller, more rural community.

“I’m looking forward to being able to communicate and work in my area,” he said.

Because the Humanitarian Parole program only allows families to stay in the country for two years, the Sychovas don’t know exactly what their future will hold, but they’re optimistic about the possibility of staying here if Roman can obtain a work visa.

Of their four kids — Diana, Danila, Bohdan and Damira — nine-year-old Diana has had the hardest time adjusting so far, but they’ve appreciated waking up each day without hearing sirens and looking out boarded up windows.

But while they’re happy to be safe halfway across the world, Roman and Dasha admitted they still frequently watch news reports on the war and do their best to follow what’s happening in their home country. As previously mentioned, four of their close friends — one of whom is the godfather of one of their daughters — are deployed as soldiers, and when the war started, Roman, who is 39, was ready to sign up for military service himself.

“I was ready to fight for my country, for my family, and I packed everything and I was ready to go and to be a soldier,” he said.

Dasha had other ideas, however, and different divisions were hesitant to accept him because he has four kids. They still proudly fly the blue and yellow Ukrainian flag alongside an American flag at their new home, and there is no question where their sympathies lie.

The Sychovas are still learning new things every day as they settle in here, but they’re eternally grateful for the support they’ve received from United for Ukraine and people like Ladehoff, Banderas, the Salaseks and Pastor Dani Musselman of Hope United Methodist Church. They spent all the money they had for the plane tickets to get to the U.S. and can’t believe how much generosity they have been shown.

“The work really starts when they get here,” Ladehoff said. “If we didn’t have a community like Marshalltown where you have the CAPS and MICA and the school district and Immigrant Allies and all that kind of stuff, Marshalltown is kind of built for this. And (they have) just good hearts. We run into people constantly who just help us out because we need a one-off kind of thing, and they’re like ‘Ah, just take it.'”

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly of all, Roman asked that the people of this area open their hearts to the idea of resettling more Ukrainians displaced by the war and contribute in any way they can — and also, potentially sending basic survival supplies to the soldiers still fighting.

Financial donations to Marshalltown United for Ukraine can be made to the “Community Foundation — United for Ukraine” and mailed to the Community Foundation, att: Julie Hitchens, 709 S. Center St., Suite 131, Marshalltown, IA 50158 or online at www.desmoines.org/marshalltownunitedforukrainefund. All money collected goes directly to caring for these families’ needs until they become self-sufficient.


Contact Robert Maharry at 641-753-6611 ext. 255 or rmaharry@timesrepublican.com.


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