Ukrainian couple talks escaping war, coming to NM with friends’ help

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — February 24 marks one year since Russia invaded Ukraine and, since then, countless Ukrainians have fled the country.

Some citizens, including Valeriy and Tetyana Burak, ended up thousands of miles away from home, in places like Albuquerque.

Before coming to Albuquerque, Valeriy and Tetyana fell in love, had children, became educators and made Mariupol, Ukraine, their home for 30 years.

Now, all they have only a few photos and memories left from their life in Ukraine.

“We were in the midst of the horrible stuff in Mariupol, Ukraine, where the city was destroyed. We spent 45 days in the basement of the hospital after being wounded,” Tetyana Burak said.

Their apartment building was bombed on March 15, 2022. They lived on the 11th floor and the 12th floor was bombed.

“We lost everything in Mariupol. Everything was destroyed. At our age, we need a new start and it is very difficult but we are trying to do that,” Tetyana Burak said.

The Buraks’ search for a new start led them to Albuquerque.

After learning about what happened, Dawn and Mark McKenzie welcome the Buraks to their Albuquerque home with open arms.

“We were more than happy to have them come here and live with us,” Mark McKenzie said.

The Buraks and McKenzies aren’t strangers, though. Their friendship began nearly 15 years ago.

“We adopted two girls from Ukraine in 2009 and Tetyana helped us so much while we were there as a driver, interpreter and facilitator. She let us stay at an organization where she worked, then we became friends and they’ve come to visit. It just seems like the natural thing to do, for them to come here when they needed a place,” Dawn McKenzie said.

The Buraks have been staying with the McKenzies since late-August and they’ve been adjusting to their new life.

After the Buraks taught English in Ukraine for over 20 years, they’ve been struggling to find employment here.

“As for now, we are open to basically any job because we need to start doing something and pay the bills and rent an apartment so we hope to get some help,” Tetyana Burak said.

Russia’s war with Ukraine has now been raging for one long year. No matter the time, the Buraks and McKenzies say Ukraine should never be forgotten.