Tampa Couple Hosts Ukrainian Refugee Family

Roaya Tyson hopes her willingness to open her home to strangers in desperation will inspire others to do the same.

TAMPA, Fla. — While the war worsens in Ukraine, people around the Tampa Bay region are finding ways to help.

10 Tampa Bay reporter Liz Crawford spent the morning with a Ukrainian refugee family who fled not knowing their final destination. Weeks later, they find themselves in Tampa, Florida with strangers who gave them a safe place to stay.

Roaya and Tony Tyson bought their south Tampa townhouse to live in while their high-rise condo is under construction. It’s a pristine home with a whole new purpose.

The Tysons are hosting Sergey, Yuliia, and their two sons Maxym and Mark, ages 11 and 3. The family of four fled Ukraine after bombings nearly killed them.

“The mirrors were shaking, the windows broke in our house, that day we knew we need to do something, we need to do something to save our children,” Yuliia said through a translator helping 10 Tampa Bay communicate with the family.

Their journey began by car as they drove to the Ukrainian border and quietly found a way into a few more countries before eventually landing in Mexico. They connected with a Ukrainian church in California working to place refugees with American host families.

“We were watching the news night after night after night and just kind of felt hopeless,” said Roaya Tyson who decided to reach out to that Ukrainian church in California.

“Within 24 hours they were blowing up our phones,” she said. The Tysons had planned on hosting two or three people. That quickly turned into four when someone with the church called.

“They said we have a family of four, two kids and we said well if they need help, we’re going to help them.”

Sergey, Yuliia, and the boys arrived in Tampa just three days ago. Tyson is using her connections at Gracepoint, where she works as the chief operating officer to get the family settled and safe.

“I’ve done behavioral health, physical health and homeless services for a very long time, this is on a whole new level,” said Tyson.

Haircuts and doctor appointments were first on the list. The goal is to get the family situated in an apartment with the kids going to school and the adults eventually working.

Translating documents, applying for visas, and supporting the emotional needs of the family are part of the commitment for Tyson and others at Gracepoint.

Yuliia told the translator, “I feel really safe here in Tampa however, I have a big rock on my soul. My heart is really heavy because I have a lot of relatives and friends who are still in Ukraine and they’re not safe.”

I got to meet this Ukrainian refugee family now settling in Tampa. We used a translator app to communicate. When the kids were hiding under the bed the dad told me this: pic.twitter.com/nHspS08CX2

— Liz Crawford WTSP (@LizCrawfordWTSP) April 7, 2022

The adults are relying on translator apps to get by for now. The Tysons said they can stay as long as it takes to get settled. 

Sergey and Yuliia said their older son has become very quiet and shut down and the 3-year-old wakes up with nightmares. They have no regrets.

“We now realize this is the right decision that our kids are alive and healthy and we’re all together and we’re healthy and we’re alive,” said Yuliia.

If you want to help this family or host another Ukrainian family, contact Susan Morgan at SMorgan@gracepointwellness.org.

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