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Fleming Island woman helps to relocate Ukrainian refugee to Tennessee

By Kylie Cordell For Clay Today
Posted 2/16/23

FLEMING ISLAND – Katie Rios is single-handedly funding a Ukrainian woman’s relocation to Jonesborough, Tennessee, to escape the ravages of war in her hometown in Ukraine.

“When I first heard …

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Fleming Island woman helps to relocate Ukrainian refugee to Tennessee


FLEMING ISLAND – Katie Rios is single-handedly funding a Ukrainian woman’s relocation to Jonesborough, Tennessee, to escape the ravages of war in her hometown in Ukraine.

“When I first heard about the invasion on Feb. 24, my heart just hurt for them. I don’t think anyone should have to flee their home,” Rios said.

Nearly a year since Russia launched the full-out war with Ukraine, more than 7,100 civilians, including more than 400 children, were killed during the invasion, according to Statista.

Those who survived were forced to flee, sheltering in underground train stations, walking hundreds of miles and leaving everything behind.

It’s been 11 months since Nataliia Ivanova, 47, of Kharkiv, was awoken by the sounds of bombs rattling the windows of her house.

According to Rios, Ivanova called her mother and sister. They both believed everything would be OK; it would just be that one round of bombing.

But the bombing didn’t cease. No one slept for 24 hours. Those who left were met by Russian troops and killed.

“Thousands of civilizations were killed and dumped into mass graves,” Rios said. “I wanted to do anything I could to help them. I wanted to host families, but at that time, the only Ukrainians allowed to come here were families of Ukrainians already in the United States, so I donated to many non-profits and continued to post about the war and places people could donate.”

That’s when she learned about a new program created by the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services called Uniting for Ukraine, a “streamlined process to provide Ukrainian citizens who have fled Russia’s unprovoked war of aggression opportunities to come to the United States.”

U4U helps Ukrainians leave Ukraine and come to the United States for safety.

“From there, I made a profile on Welcome.US and waited for Ukrainians to reach out. I had four or five messages when I woke up the next morning,” Rios said.

On Feb. 27, 2022, Ivanova managed to flee Ukraine with her daughter, not knowing if they would ever be able to return to their native soil. Eventually, they reached a rail station in Lviv.

After waiting for for nearly five hours in minus-4-degree temperatures, they found themselves in an old, packed evacuation train headed to Poland. But Nataliia’s daughter refused to board, not wanting to leave her boyfriend behind.

Nataliia had no other choice. She boarded the train and didn’t look back. After reaching Lviv, she had two options: she could go to a camp on the outskirts of the city or board another train – this one to Berlin.

“A day or two before Christmas, Nataliia messaged me from Germany. I wanted to help people still physically in Ukraine, but I started thinking, if that were my mom, I would want someone taking care of her,” Rios said. “I filled out the paperwork on Christmas, and we were accepted the next week.”

Ivanova will arrive in Tennessee on March 4 through Rios’ efforts, escaping the trauma and tragedy of war-torn Ukraine. She longs to reconnect with her daughter and hopes to bring her to the country when the European situation improves.

For the time being, Ivanova will live with Rios and her parents in Tennessee. However, Rios will need help from people to help Ivanova start a new life. She hopes local agencies, churches and individuals will assist with housing, supplies, furniture, food, and other necessities.

“Everyone has been really compassionate and excited to be able to help. I think the community is really going to come together and support Nataliia when she is here,” she said.

If you want to support Nataliia, you can donate on Rios’ GoFundMe, “Ukrainian relocating to Jonesborough & refugees.”

“My goal for GoFundMe is to be able to supplement the financial aid I am providing through my savings and earnings. I also hope to raise enough that I can donate portions to non-profits also assisting Ukraine, such as Restore Ukraine and Vols for Ukraine,” Rios said.

To learn more about the objectives for the funds, ways to donate, or to get in contact with Rios, visit her website,

If you want to make at least one Ukrainian safe in the United States, you can also become a sponsor. Welcome.US is the website suggested by DHS for those who want to help but don’t know any Ukrainians personally. You can connect with one or a family and offer to sponsor.

Sponsorship includes financially supporting a Ukrainian Refugee, helping with legal paperwork, medical, job searches, affordable housing and applying for SNAP benefits for two years. The goal is that they will be adjusted to life in the United States so they can become self-sufficient.

“There are still thousands within Ukraine and the surrounding countries that are living in their homes and hearing the shellings daily, or living in hostels or refugee camps and need to feel safe,” Rios said.

For more information on the program can be found at the Department of Homeland Security and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services websites.