KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Katya Muraviova and her daughter Sasha lived a simple yet beautiful life in their home country of Ukraine.
"We were happy," Muraviova said. "For example, my family lived together. Also, my daughter could go to school and meet her friends every day."
But that simple life came crashing down when Russia invaded Ukraine last February.
"Everything was destroyed," she said. "We were afraid, really scared about everything and a lot of people died in our country."
So the mother-daughter duo was forced to trade the streets of Ukraine for the playgrounds at Lakeshore Park in Knoxville. They came to the United States as part of the Uniting for Ukraine program, which provides a pathway for Ukrainian citizens and their immediate family members who are outside the U.S. to come to the country and stay temporarily in a two-year period of parole.
Muraviova said, though, adjusting to life in Knoxville hasn't been easy. Her husband and her parents are still in Ukraine, so she hopes to be able to return there sometime soon.
Regardless, she said she is grateful for the help she has received from groups like Bridge Refugee Services and from volunteers.
"They help us and they found an art class for my daughter, for example," she said. "Also, I have a problem. I have never driven a car and they help me with that."
Muraviova and her daughter actually got to celebrate their first American Thanksgiving last week.
"I tried for the first time in my life stuffing with corn," Muraviova said while laughing. "Yes, it is unusual and it is tasty."
The duo is now gearing up to celebrate its first Christmas in East Tennessee.
"It will be very beautiful and now I can see a lot of Christmas stuff in the shops," she said. "And I think happiness is in the air, so, you know, it makes me happy and I am glad to be here, to be close to people who celebrate this holiday."
And with the situation back home in Ukraine, Muraviova will use all of the happiness she can get. Despite all of that, she said she is extra thankful this year because both her daughter and herself got another chance at life.
"I am thankful that we can be part of another community life," she said. "It is important to be close to another people, good people."