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‘My heart is full.’ Ukrainian family arrives in SC with nothing.

BY LYN RIDDLE, the state – They fled war-torn Ukraine uncertain what was waiting for them 15 hours later in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

The Nagayevskyy family — father, mother and five children younger than 11 — walked off the airplane to be greeted by a dozen or so people who managed over the space of a few days to collect everything the family would need in their new home.

Everything. A crib for the 3-month-old, bunk beds, king bed, a comfy couch, even cans of Campbell’s chunky soup amid a rash of groceries.

Eugene Kozlov, a real estate agent in Simpsonville, sought help from his office then his neighbors and then it seemed the whole Upstate got involved to turn an empty duplex in Spartanburg into a home. One business in Mauldin gave mattresses, furniture and cash. Kozlov’s church Revival Bible Church helped as well.

Kozlov was 16 when his family left Ukraine in the 1980s to live with an aunt and uncle in California. He knows how it feels to leave what you know with very little in the way of belongings, to not speak the language of a foreign land.

He’s been in South Carolina for several years now, a place that has become something of a haven for Ukrainians. He estimates South Carolina is home to about 5,000 refugees — some longtime residents, others here only since the war began. Many are clustered in the Upstate, sponsored by people they knew from home.

“They put their credit on the line” to rent places to live, provide security deposits, knowing it would be months before their friends and relatives will be able to apply to jobs, to earn a living.

And he knows what the families are fleeing. One of his uncles died in a missile strike outside his church in Ukraine. Another uncle refuses to leave, saying if that is his fate, so be it.

Oleksandr Nagayevskyy was a preacher in Ukraine. It’s too early to know what he will do now. There are papers to fill out, applications for this and that.

But, as his children scampered around the gleaming wood floors of their new home, he told the friends he had just met his “heart is full.”

He has an advantage some refugees don’t have — he speaks English.

Kozlov is not resting under the glow of the success of the Nagayevskyy move in. He has a family of 11 coming soon. And they, too, have an empty house.

Any extras given to the Nagayevskyy family are going to them, as both families search for vans to accommodate their big families.

And there will certainly be more Ukrainians coming after them.

Donations may be made to Kozlov’s church, Revival Bible Church in Spartanburg, where a fund has been set up for refugees, via Zelle or Cash App. For goods, email Kozlov and he will arrange for pickup

This story was originally published December 19, 2022 8:55 AM.

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