Peter Sokor has been playing the piano since he was a child, and at his home in Ukraine he made a living tutoring adults and children. He enjoyed teaching people and planning large concerts where students would invite their families, friends and colleagues to see them perform.
When Russia began invading Ukraine in February, Peter, his wife Kseniia and their three daughters Sara, Yeva and Maria fled their homes near Kyiv, the country’s capital. At first, Peter tried to take his keyboard as they fled. But as their journey continued, he had to leave them behind.
“I have to play,” he said, describing the piano as a way of expressing himself.
One of the first things Peter bought shortly after arriving in Wisconsin in April was a new keyboard. Two months later, the family found a new home with the help of a Stoughton charity. Now the instrument is on display in the Sokors’ home in Stoughton – a place where the Stoughton Resettlement Assistance Program (SRAP) has helped them. And once again Peter can give playful lessons to interested locals – but for the time being only on a donation basis.
As of August 1, the Sokors will be one of four Ukrainian families that SRAP has helped find a fully furnished apartment or house. The program covers rent, utilities, and everything else families need to adjust to life in the United States
Kay Weeden, a program coordinator, said when SRAP first began organizing in late 2021, members initially planned to help relocate Afghan families seeking refuge at Fort McCoy. But in mid-February, Weeden said the Afghan refugees had all been relocated to other communities in the US. Shortly thereafter, the war between Russia and Ukraine began, and SRAP volunteers shifted their efforts to resettling Ukrainian refugees in Stoughton.
“When we started, we just wanted to help one or two people,” Weeden said. “We’ve since decided this works, and we’ve formed a 501(c)(3) and applied for funding where we can get it.”
SRAP members have worked closely with residents and local organizations to raise money and collect items for Ukrainians, including furniture, household items and toiletries. Community donations have taken a variety of other forms, such as paying Sara, Yeva and Maria to take fall classes and providing the families with new bikes and helmets.
“Sometimes we’re so surprised that we don’t know people and they’re so nice,” Peter said.
Sara, Yeva and Maria were also enrolled at Charis Classical Academy when they arrived in Wisconsin in April. Maria said all her classmates are nice and became her friends on their first day.
Before the Sokor family was associated with SRAP, an Oregon, Wisconsin couple, Maria and Ben Llewellyn, acted as sponsors of the Sokors, allowing them to travel to the United States
Maria Llewellyn spent part of her childhood and youth in Ukraine. When the February bombings began, she contacted her best friend and invited her to stay with her family. Her best friend’s family left Ukraine with the Sokors as they knew each other and had gone to church together. Maria said it was safer for several families to flee at once as they were traveling through unsafe terrain.
The families went to a refugee camp in Poland and then to the Czech Republic. Back in the US, the Llewellyns and their church raised money for both families and sent them monthly support for groceries, plane tickets, and other living expenses. Through her continued association with the Sokors, the Llewellyns also invited her to stay at their home.
Maria’s friend and her family decided to stay in the Czech Republic for the time being. But the Sokors accepted the Llewellyns’ offer and flew first to Mexico, then to San Diego, where they met up with Ben Llewellyn, and finally to Madison.
Since relocating to the US, Peter and Kseniia Sokor and other Ukrainian families have waited months for their work permits, Maria said, without being told by the government when their applications will be approved.
“We’re not getting any help,” Maria said. “These people don’t get anything. They only rely on sponsors to help them.”
Maria said she regularly contacted representatives to try to speed up the process and in the meantime her family also sponsored more Ukrainian families and helped “give them a chance at a better life”.
As more refugees seek shelter in the United States, Weeden plans for SRAP to expand in the future and work with other populations fleeing persecution or war.
“We want to be that organization and start building Stoughton so that it has a reputation for being the friendly town it is,” Weeden said, “that welcomes newcomers with dignity and respect for their culture and with enthusiasm.”
SRAP accepts donations for household items on SignUpGenius and uses GoFundMe for fundraisers.