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Client Story: Zhanna

Ukrainian mother and daughters find safety in Minnesota

When Zhanna and her two adult daughters arrived from Ukraine last summer, she cherished daily morning calls with her husband who was required to stay behind. Now, rocket attacks and unpredictable blackouts mean she doesn’t know when they will next have the chance to speak.

“No lights, no internet, no phone connection,” Zhanna explained about life in Kyiv during Russian attacks by rockets or self-detonating drones.

Through the International Institute of Minnesota, Ukrainians have found refuge, safety and support for as long as they’re living here.

Four afternoons a week, Zhanna and her 20-year-old daughter Yeva, attend English classes at the Institute. Their teacher, Quyen, often uses games like Grammar Jenga, Pictionary and Taboo to practice English, which Zhanna enjoys.

“We forget about our lives in Ukraine, about this war, when we play and smile – a little bit forget the information from Ukraine,” Zhanna said.


One of Yeva’s primary goals while living in Minnesota is to “improve my speaking skills, know more difficult words, learn some slang.”

Games and classroom relationships help provide a much-needed break, at least temporarily, from their online work and schooling still based in Ukraine. The 8-hour time difference requires both women to wake in the middle of the night. Zhanna, a financial director who is waiting for her U.S. work permit, sleeps maybe five hours before logging on to connect with her co-workers.

Yeva sleeps a little, then attends her online university classes in Kyiv that continue despite the war – unless blackouts prevent her teachers from connecting to the internet.

“It’s really hard because I need to study in the night,” Yeva said about her seven university classes.

She is also looking for office work that would make use of her business management skills. “I can do everything,” Yeva said. “The significant goal for me right now is to get a job. We need to pay for rent. I’m the one person who get a work permit.” Yeva’s sister, Lera, is an architect networking in the Twin Cities until her work permit arrives.

Despite their challenges, Zhanna and her daughters make time for fun, too. At home in Kyiv, they used to go out to breakfast every Saturday. Now in Minnesota, they reserve Saturday mornings for sampling Twin Cities coffee shops in search of the best espresso.


“We need to put down the pressure. We need a break,” Zhanna said about finding ways to enjoy life.


Worries about her husband’s and brother’s safety though, are never far from her thoughts.

For now, the mother-daughter trio continue studying English, enjoying Institute class field trips to locations like the Minnesota State Capitol and adjusting to Twin Cities life. Zhanna calls Minnesotans “very smiley people, very helpful, very kind. Everyone wants to help us. We’re very glad about this.”

Looking ahead, Zhanna says her daughters may choose to stay and work for the full two years permitted through the U.S. government’s Uniting for Ukraine humanitarian parole program. Zhanna, however, has other hopes. “I want to come back to my husband.”

For more than 100 years, the International Institute of Minnesota has empowered New Americans to achieve self-sufficiency and become valued members and leaders in their community.

Inside our 2022 Annual Report, we share stories of people from Somalia, Ukraine, Afghanistan and Vietnam, some of the over 3,000 New Americans we served in the last year alone. These stories of resilience and renewal continue to unfold every day, right here in Minnesota. You will also find our financials as well as our immense gratitude to donors and volunteers who help fulfill our mission each year.