‘It was a miracle’: Local Ukrainian woman reunites family for holiday season

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – For a local Ukrainian family, the promise of more destructive attacks paired with a harsh winter became too much to bear from thousands of miles away.

One Ukrainian woman recently entered the war zone, to pull off a holiday miracle for her loved ones.

A simple Sunday night meal in the backyard means so much more to Larysa Castillo this weekend.

“It’s such a sense of relief, and blessing,” said Castillo. 

Because it’s one of the first meals she’s had with her Ukrainian parents since 2019.

“It’s something like a dream, it’s a dream come true. I still have to pinch myself and say ‘that’s true right!? I’m not dreaming, I’m not sleeping, I’m not imagining, it’s all here, and it’s happening,'” Castillo said. 

Castillo left on a mission to help save them from the Ukrainian war zone about two weeks ago.

“It was my rescue mission,” Castillo said. 

She knows winter will be brutal. She says continued attacks on Ukrainian power plants have effectively knocked out heat and power to a majority of the country.

“I know they were not able to support themselves, in that harsh winter,” said Castillo. 

The journey from New Mexico took her three days through miles of devastated landscape she used to call home.

“It was so scary and unbelievable,” she said. “It was just devastation. Broken burnt houses, big holes right by the road it means that the bomb missed the road just a few inches.”

But nothing would stop her from making it to a suburb outside Kiev to save her parents.

“I said ‘mom I’m here, I made it, I made it, I’m gonna be here with you, we’re gonna get you together pack your suitcases and we’re gonna go,’” said Castillo. “ My mom said ‘yes we go, and we’re gonna take three cats with us!’”

Those three cats ended up being quite the obstacle for her family’s trip back to New Mexico. With limited options for travel crates in Ukrainian stores, they hit a hurdle on their second of three flights.

“It was an eleven hour flight and we were scared because we knew the problem was there. When we get in there, crew look at us they’re like ‘OK we have a problem,’” said Castillo. 

The crates were too tall to go under their seats, but flight attendants stepped in and relocated Castillo’s family’s seats. They also had collapsible crates waiting at the gate in Salt Lake City to take on their final leg of the journey.

“For me, it was a miracle. I can’t imagine somebody who you don’t know would do so much to you to feel comfortable and safe,” Castillo said. “I just told my parents that’s how American people are, they’re so openhearted, and so kind, and God bless America. We are so happy we are safe now.”

Safe, and sharing a meal in their new American home.

“Even in this horrible situation which war created, to the entire world actually, we were able to get our families together, and get some joy of being reunited and being happy again.”

Castillo’s organization, Ukrainian Americans of New Mexico, is raising funds for refugees and other Ukrainian families in need. Click here for more information or ways to donate.