OAK RIDGE, Tenn. — It was almost six months ago when explosions woke up the city of Kyiv. Maria Rudíuk grabbed her son and started crossing the borders looking for safety. Bridges were collapsing and roads were blocked.
Rudíuk said the same route that used to take them six hours, this time it took them more than 12 hours. The first and only thing in her mind was to save her son.
"I left my house. I left everything there," Rudíuk said. "I have only my son and backpack. That's it. Nothing more. My documents... some money. And that's it. I have some toys and underwear for my son. This is what I have from my past life."
Rudíuk arrived in Oak Ridge back in April after a local man sponsored eight refugees from Ukraine and brought then to the U.S. She is now living in a house with two other Ukrainian families.
She said her son's father had to stay back to fight in the war. For the first few months the only message she received from him was, "I'm alive. I love you." Rudíuk said she had to stay strong for her son.
"I'm gonna cry now. Of course, it's bad we're not living, we are surviving," Rudíuk said.
On Monday, Rudíuk spoke about her journey to the Women's Interfaith Dialogue (WID) of Oak Ridge. This is an organization that focuses on helping women and on building a stronger community. She said if it wasn't for the help she has received from East Tennessee it would've been much harder.
Judy Gooch is one of the women who is helping. She is an interior designer and businesswoman who met the families who arrived from Ukraine at a benefit. She said she knew in that moment that she had to find ways to help.
"I just felt like it was just kind of my mission to figure out ways to help, so we've done it. We're just still doing it. There's lots more that we can help," Gooch said.
But it's not only women. Many people from the community have been helping. Grant Ceffalo, who knew them from traveling to Ukraine for business, is helping by sponsoring them. He helped them travel from one place to another until they arrived to safety. They are all living now in the house that he bought.
"Because people who need help should be helped. If you can help you should," Ceffalo said.
Without a source of income, refugees like Rudíuk can use all the help they can until they land on their own feet.
Rudíuk's message for people from Ukraine: "Be brave, never lose your hope. And just try to live a new life and just try to build something new."