Ukrainian family flees to Orlando (includes video story)

A Ukrainian family is safely in Florida this morning. They made it to Orlando just days after Russian troops started targeting their home in Kyiv.

When the mother, Yulia Gerbut fled Kyiv with her sons, 11-year-old Nikita and 14-year-old Max, she packed what she could — including a special candle that represents her son, Martin, who died from cancer in 2019 when he was only 4 years old.

“You can’t imagine how many times I’ve kissed this candle,” she shared. “The grave of my son is left there and obviously. I can’t take him with me.”

After the attacks began in Ukraine, the family was forced to flee.

Then came the long journey and refugee camps. Eventually, the family made it to Orlando to stay with Meegan Yockus, who had hosted Gerbut during a student exchange program 20 years ago.

Today, Gerbut fears for the life of her 72-year-old father, who’s in Mariupol.

“I haven’t heard from my dad for 12 days,” she said. “I don’t know if he’s alive.”

Gerbut has been volunteering to help Ukrainian relief efforts while her sons are attending public school, as they temporarily find a measure of safety and peace.

Zitlali Solache is a student in Florida International University, pursuing her Masters degree in Spanish-Language Broadcast Journalism. Zitlali Solache is Mexican American and has a passion for storytelling and news. She has interned for WPBT PBS, WSVN Channel 7 and STEP Univision. After graduation, Zitlali aspires to become a reporter/anchor in her hometown Miami, FL.