Ukrainian refugee comes to Lincoln

Penne Hanus embraces Margo Shevchenko, a Ukrainian refugee, at the Lincoln Airport
Penne Hanus embraces Margo Shevchenko, a Ukrainian refugee, at the Lincoln Airport(John Grinvalds)
Published: Sep. 16, 2022 at 10:49 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - Margo Shevchenko didn’t think much about her life changing as she closed her eyes on the night of Feb. 23.

But as dawn began burning away the dark, Russian tanks were on the move.

“On Feb. 24, my life changed completely,” Shevchenko said. “I woke up because there was explosions outside.”

Her home in the Kharkiv region, only a handful of miles from the Russian border, became part of a long front during Russia’s surprise invasion. Shevchekno grabbed what she could and went west toward the Polish border.

In Poland, Shevchenko eventually landed at a hotel in Warsaw, where a Nebraskan fundraising effort allowed dozens of refugee families to stay. There, she also met John and Penne Hanus, volunteers from Lincoln.

“I remember the first night there, sitting there, just watching them come in for the evening meal,” John Hanus said. “And just hitting me, that these people were pulled from their homes, in a different country now, didn’t know if whether they were going to be able to go back or not. And your heart just has to go out for them.”

But it wasn’t just their hearts that went out to the Ukrainians. This week, John and Penne also opened the doors of their home.

The two, along with family members, met Shevchenko at the Lincoln airport on Tuesday night. Shevchenko received humanitarian parole status, meaning she can stay in the country for at least the next two years.

“Why would we not do it,” Penne Hanus said. “It’s not so much why are we doing it. But why would we not do it? It doesn’t make sense to me that you wouldn’t help somebody.”

Now, thousands of miles away from the front lines, Shevchenko is settling into a new rhythm of life.

She’s enjoyed seeing trying new things in Lincoln, from shopping for pumpkins to eating Nebraskan sweet corn.

Shevchenko said her life has changed again--this time, for the better.

“It was my big dream to come to America one day,” Shevchenko. “And now it’s happening. And John and Penne, they didn’t just help that. They changed it. They made it happen. And from now on, I don’t think my life will ever be the same.”