The Makarevych family poses underneath the Ukrainian crest in the dining room of the former rectory of St. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Catholic Church: Artem (pictured left), Nataliia (middle), Mykhailo (right), Eva (center left), Mariia (center right). Photo courtesy of Sarah Dolgin.

Reflecting on One Year of War

The Makarevych and Popovych families’ stories are part of the “Reflecting on One Year of War” series, created by Central Current to offer a space to document and elevate the many Ukrainian voices of our local community. If you or someone you know would like to be part of the series, email Sarah Dolgin at

Editor’s note: Interviews were translated from Ukrainian to English by Vasile Colopelnic, who facilitated Central Current’s conversation with the Makarevych and Popovych families. 

Eva Makarevych, 4, curls up on the couch and watches TV on her iPad. Her sister Mariia, 10, brings her painting to the dining room table to show her parents. Artem, 18, bids farewell to his sisters as he heads to his evening class. 

Nataliia and Mykhailo share a glance of admiration for their three children, and for the 20 years of marriage they recently celebrated. The Ukrainian coat of arms hangs high on the wall, a reminder to the Makarevych family that they are over 7,000 miles away from their home in the Zakarpattia oblast of western Ukraine. 

In August 2022, the Makarevych family left their home in Mukachevo, Ukraine, to seek refuge in Central New York’s Ukrainian community. Since the start of the war, Pastor Vasile Colopelnic of Auburn’s St. Paul and Peter Ukrainian Catholic Church has made arrangements for over 20 Ukrainian refugees, working with his congregation to sponsor their arrivals and housing arrangements. 

Colopelnic later arranged for Nataliia’s brother Serhiy Popovych and his daughter Magdalena, 13, to leave their home in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, to move in with the Makarevyches.

While many of the people Colopelnic has sponsored found him through social media or mutual connections, Nataliia took an alternate route: her family tree.

Colopelnic visited Romania over the summer and met Nataliia’s mother. Her mother told Colopelnic that Nataliia secured sponsorship to come to the U.S., but had nowhere to stay. Soon after, Colopelnic found out that the Makarevych family was distantly related to his wife. A few months later, the Makarevych family settled into their new home next door to the church in the former rectory Colopelnic used to call home. 

Nataliia’s husband, children and extended family are under the same roof in Auburn, but her mind is in Ukraine. 

Her eldest son is 20, and had to stay in western Ukraine with his grandparents because martial law went into effect following the Russian invasion. Men ages 18 to 60 cannot leave the country unless they qualify for an exception

Nataliia’s eyes well up, and she blinks away tears as she tells Colopelnic of her concern for her son. Mariia proudly chimes in that she calls her older brother every morning on the bus ride to school, and that she misses him. 

Nataliia maneuvers her family for a group photo, fidgeting uncomfortably as they rearrange to fill the missing space. 

Adjusting to school in the U.S.

Eva smiles at Colopelnic, and tells him matter-of-factly that she is four years old. 

She is enrolled in pre-K at St. Auburn the Great, and is preparing for kindergarten next year. Every so often, her blonde curls pop up from the side of the table in search of a head pat from her mother before she retreats to play with her iPad. She picks up English phrases at school like her older sister, and brings them home to share with the rest of the family. 

Mariia’s face lights up as she is asked about fourth grade. “I love it,” she tells Colopenic. 

She says that the teachers are beautiful and that she has three favorite subjects: art, math and physical education. Mariia tells Colopelnic she drew a turtle in art class, and that the teacher pinned her creation on the wall because it was the best one. Although she needs to use her iPad to translate when she speaks with her classmates, it does not stand in the way of their blossoming friendships. Nataliia chuckles as she recounts the endless birthday party invitations Mariia receives from her peers. 

Serhiy Popovych and his daughter Magdalena pose in the dining room of the former rectory at St. Paul and Peter Ukrainian Catholic Church. Photo courtesy of Sarah Dolgin.

For her cousin Magdalena, the seventh-grade social scene is not so easy. Magdalena tells Colopelnic that she has not made any friends, but her teachers are kind. She says that she follows the lessons in English, but sometimes needs to use Google Translate when conversing. Magdalena learned English at school in Kyiv but looks to Colopelnic for encouragement. 

“I love to dance to hip-hop, jazz-funk and K-pop,” she said.

In Kyiv, Colopelnic explains, Magdalena was part of a pre-professional dance team. Her dream, she says, is to be a performing artist known for singing, dancing and rapping. She sits up with excitement, asking her father to present a video of her dance solo, tucking a strand of electric blue hair behind her ear. 

YouTube video

Magdalena performs a dance solo in Ukraine for her former dance club. Video provided by Serhiy Popovych.

She misses her mother, friends and grandparents who are still in Ukraine, but is excited to explore her future in the U.S. Her father Serhiy plans to move to a bigger city so that Magdalena can pursue dance at the level that she was able to in Ukraine. 

Artem, 18, feels out of place in high school because he completed it in Ukraine. He’s told Colopelnic that he wants to get a job instead. They agreed that he will stay in school until the end of the school year, and that he can look for work afterward. Nataliia and Mykhailo believe that school has been good for Artem despite his frustrations, because of his ability to practice English there. 

Overcoming the language barrier is important to Nataliia and Mykhailo, as they arrived in the U.S. having only learned how to say “hello.”

Back to work 

For refugees in the U.S., it can take months to get an asylum work permit. Once Nataliia’s husband Mykhailo received his working papers, he was able to get a job at Rosalie’s Cucina in Skaneateles, joining the kitchen staff. 

Mykhailo was a prestigious chef in Ukraine, Nataliia gushed. When they were back in Ukraine, two years before the start of the war, Mykhailo prepared a meal for Ukrainian President Zelenskyy who visited the restaurant at which he worked. 

He does not always understand what the other kitchen staff is saying, but knows his way around the menu, working directly to cook the restaurant’s Italian cuisine. 

Nataliia envies the time her husband and children spend practicing English at work and school while she stays at home. She laughs as she describes her daily vacuuming and kitchen chores, and tells Colopelnic of the frustration she feels when she tries to navigate doctor appointments and school paperwork. She watches Youtube videos to work on her English skills when she has the time, and is slowly learning the language as she continues to interact with English speakers. 

She wants to stay in the U.S. for as long as she can, but wants her son to join them. Nataliia hopes that she can help him leave Ukraine when possible, so that her family can be together again. 

The Makarevych and Popovych families’ stories are part of the “Reflecting on One Year of War” series, created by Central Current to offer a space to document and elevate the many Ukrainian voices of our local community. If you or someone you know would like to be part of the series, email Sarah Dolgin at

Avatar photo

Sarah Dolgin

Sarah Dolgin is a graduating senior at Syracuse University studying digital journalism and data analytics. Sarah enjoys covering arts and culture, equity and more. Have a tip? Contact Sarah at