Update on Olha, Vanya, Sasha and, yes, Dimi!

by Anne-Marie Welsh

Dec. 9, 2023, started out like any other day for Olha and her two children, Vanya and Sasha. Readers may remember them from two previous stories about this young family from Kyiv, Ukraine, who fled their homeland with the help of Father Rick Tomasone and his former student, Barbora Fabianova-Hajasova, soon after the Russian invasion.

The heartbreaking decision to become refugees — especially because they had to leave Dimi, their husband and father, behind — was softened only by the wide-open arms of St. Joseph Parish and others in the Warren community. Olha and her children were soon set up with an apartment, transportation, a job for Olha and classes at St. Joseph Elementary School for Vanya and Sasha.

The family took advantage of FaceTime to remain in close contact with Dimi, but 22 months of suffering, strain and separation took a toll on everyone. And then, on Dec. 9, completely out of the blue, Olha got a call from Dimi. He was in

Poland, figuring out a way to join the family in the United States. Permanently.

To this day, it’s unclear how he received permission to leave the country, but Father Tomasone had filled out sponsorship forms on his behalf, which surely played a role.

Once he learned Dimi was out of the country, Father Tomasone, who has taught high school math, went into problem-solving mode, working out flight arrangements not only for Dimi but also for the family dog, Peach. Within a week, Dimi landed in Chicago, making it onto his final flight to Buffalo with just ten minutes to spare.

Father Tomasone remembers that Sasha was the first to spot Dimi clearing the door from the airport hallway.

“She’s jumping up and down, so excited,” Father Tomasone says. “Of course, other people in the airport had no idea what was going on, but there were a lot of hugs and tears all the way to baggage claim.”

Although Dimi had been a sportscaster, and later a newscaster in Ukraine, he also is a former member of the Ukrainian National Cadet and Junior teams of the Dynamo Fencing Club in Kyiv. During his competitive career, he earned medals at all levels including as a member of the senior National Championship team. This led to securing a position as a coach with Boston’s Dynamo Fencing Center.

Shortly after Christmas, Vanya and his dad left for New England, while Ohla, Sasha and Peach remain in Warren until arrangements to reunite the family on a permanent basis are finalized at the end of the school year. Yes, the family is separated again, but under much better circumstances.

“They are doing well,” Father Rick says. He cherishes the fact that the family asked for a blessing together before Dimi and Vanya headed to Massachusetts.

The road ahead is not necessarily clear. The family will need to sort out its immigration status and seek Green Cards if they are to stay.

As for Father Tomasone, the parishioners at St. Joseph and other people from Warren who welcomed the family?

“It has been a rich gift, really,” he says, admitting he has felt both nervous and overprotective of his charges. “But they are a family. I don’t know how it will all turn out. I’m excited to know they are still here, and they are safe. That’s a really great thing.”

Find the first two stories about Father Tomasone and the efforts of St. Joseph Parish and School in the June 2022 and April 2023 editions of Faith magazine.