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‘It’s Like a Movie’: Displaced Ukrainian Family Trying to Build New Life in Pāhala

By Tom Hasslinger
May 13, 2022, 2:00 PM HST
* Updated May 13, 12:05 PM
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Maksym Kolosov arrived on the Big Island around two weeks ago with his wife, Karina, and their 12-year-old daughter, Lina. PC: Alla Kostenko

Life in Hawai‘i for the Kolosov family is surreal.

The landscape is beautiful, the beaches calm, the people friendly, and the community in Pāhala, where they’ve landed, is supportive. But it feels like a dream, detached from reality, because their home is in the Ukraine, and life, as they used to know it, has been destroyed in the war.

“I have very mixed feelings,” said Maksym Kolosov, who arrived on the Big Island around two weeks ago with his wife, Karina, and their 12-year-old daughter, Lina, about the new life they’ve settled into. “It’s like a move, a sci-fi movie.”

Maksym, who worked for a nonprofit in his home country, married Karina in February, just two days before they received word their country was going to be invaded by Russian troops.

The Kolosovs are from city of Sloviansk, which has since been 80-90% evacuated after Russia targeted the city with missiles in a recent attack.

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Their friends and family are like them, scattered, making the best of the chaos they’ve been dumped into. When life was normal, the Kolosov family lived comfortably, went to work and school, and traveled, enjoying the rest of the world, Hawai‘i included, without thinking they’d ever live anywhere else.

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But those days are gone, with no indication when, or if, they are to return.

Maksym Kolosov explains the emotion his family has experienced during a Zoom interview alongside his family and friend, Alla Kostenko. PC: Tom Hasslinger/Big Island Now

“We were never one to move from our country,” Maksym said, his wife and daughter by his side, during a Zoom interview with Big Island Now. “It’s a stressful time.”

The Kolosovs made it to Pāhala by way of Poland, then Germany, then Mexico and Seattle. They have a friend here, Alla Kostenko, whom they met when the Kostenkos were on a mission trip to Russia and Ukraine back in 2002. Alla Kostenko still has family in those countries, and knew she and her husband had to help their old friends.

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“This is the story of a lot of Ukrainian people right now,” Alla said during the Zoom interview, translating for the family at times. “It’s heartbreaking for them.”

Alla runs a coffee farm in Pāhala and a neighbor gave the displaced family temporary housing in an apartment. She helps the transplants with language barriers.

She also helped the family with all the proper paperwork to remain here legally. They’re waiting on their work authorization to be granted, which could extend their stay for 18 months. Lina started school this week and Maksym, in the meantime, is working on the coffee farm. Alla also set up a GoFundMe page to help raise money for life’s necessities to ensure the relocated family has the resources to be successful as they await work authorization so they can really begin anew.

The couple’s wedding day. PC: Alla Kostenko

A car, Alla said, if they could garner that, would give the family a whole new level of independence as they try to plant roots and make a life here.

“For the past two months, it’s been a life of uncertainty,” she said.

Translating for Maksym, Alla said the family expressed their gratitude for all they people they’ve met in Hawai‘i, who have been sympathetic and supportive when they’d learned where the family is from and from what they have fled. Maksym thanked the United States government, which allowed them into the country after they reached the Mexico border and explained their circumstance.

“During these crazy times, they had to leave, and all of their journey was made possible by all the people they’ve encountered along the way,” Alla said, translating for Maksym. “They’re grateful and appreciative for what they’ve received.”

PC: Alla Kostenko

And they’d be happy to go to work, she added.

Karina’s background is in education, and she worked in Ukraine as a softball coach, believe it or not, a sport not near as popular there as here.

“We are trying to get as much visibility to this fundraiser as possible and we know there are a lot of people out there who can help,” Alla said.

Tom Hasslinger
Tom Hasslinger is a journalist who lives in Kailua-Kona. Prior to joining Big Island Now, he worked as the managing editor for West Hawaii Today and deputy editor for The Garden Island newspaper on Kauai. He's worked for over 15 years as a reporter for the Oahu-based Civil Beat news outlet, as well as in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho and Douglas Wyoming.
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