WHIPPANY, New Jersey (WABC) -- Ukrainian churches and community centers in New York City and the suburbs established after World War II are playing a role in helping refugees escape the current war. The churches and centers were also built by those who escaped in wartime for a better life to help them and their children understand their roots.
As the war rages on overseas, a mother and her young daughter are trying to make a new life for themselves in the Tri-State after fleeing Ukraine.
Dance lessons in Ukrainian, for the youngest in the community, are one of the many ways the Ukrainian American Cultural Center of New Jersey helps educate and connect those with Ukrainian heritage to their language and culture.
"It helps those of us who never lived in Ukraine to feel that much more Ukrainian outside what we experience in our own homes and creates a community," said Anya Tershakovek Tomko of the Ukrainian American Cultural Center of New Jersey.
In the last year, the community has urgently come together to help Ukraine and the newest members of its diaspora to land here, like Darina Zhuracska.
Eyewitness News reporter Sonia Rincon asked the 33-year-old refugee what life was like a year ago for her and her 7-year-old daughter Alisa.
Zhuracska said a year ago, when they were living in Odessa, and they were hearing the threats of war happening, they almost didn't want to believe that it was going to happen. She said that when it did happen, it was a terrible shock.
She described a packed 15-hour evacuation train ride, hours of walking with luggage to the Polish border, and a brief stay in Italy before a sponsor would bring them to New Jersey, where she hopes to stay.
"Cars were lined up 5-to10 kilometers to get to the Polish border, and then they walked two or three kilometers to the border with their luggage," she said.
They would stay briefly in a refugee camp, the travel to Italy, where they would spend four months in a convent that offered them shelter, before a sponsor would bring them to New Jersey, where she hopes to stay.
Zhuracska said she's hoping to see her mother again, but going back to live in Ukraine is not something that she is considering at this point. She said she calls her mother every day.
And she supports the fight in her country.
"I believe in victory, without a doubt,: she said.
Volunteers at the center are constantly collecting, sorting and sending supplies to Ukraine by air and container ship. The fill up a container every few weeks.
A room inside is filled with medical supplies on their way.
This weekend, volunteer Dr. Alex Knihnikcy said the center is going to be gathering a lot of supplies for children that have just moved back into areas that have been taken back in Ukraine.
"I know that they are both grateful for it and surprised by it, I think, unfortunately, because as we know during the period of the Soviet Union, not much information was coming into Ukraine, and many of them when they first got here didn't realize that we all still speak Ukranian," Dr. Knihnikcy said.