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As the Lobanov family fled Ukraine, team members at IU Health Saxony partnered with a local non-profit to make the refugees’ arrival in Fishers more comfortable.
By Charlotte Stefanski, email@example.com, writer for IU Health's Indianapolis Suburban Region
War wasn’t new to the Lobanov family.
In 2014, Sasha and Natalia Lobanov fled the Donbas region of Ukraine with their two young sons, Yegor and Gleb, as the country went through a violent revolution.
“When the first bridges exploded—and they were near us—we realized that it was very dangerous there,” Sasha said. “We left with only two bags and left behind everything we held dear.”
Sasha was a well-known decorative welder, creating metal doors and artistically forged gates, and Natalia was a speech therapist for kindergarten students. Once the fighting subsided in September 2014, the family began to rebuild their lives in the city of Kharkiv.
They became private entrepreneurs, opening two storefronts and creating an online shop for board games, figurines and art.
“Kharkiv is a beautiful city with two million people. I will not say that life was easy because it was still hard to survive in Ukraine, but people were happy,” Sasha explained.
That all changed again when Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. The family endured a month of shelling before fleeing the country, taking shelter in their home’s basement. Sasha and Natalia only left to find food.
The family once again found themselves packing their most precious belongings, but this time they would travel much farther, arriving in Fishers, Ind., six months later.
With the help of a language app, the family was able to give an update on how they’re adjusting to life in Fishers. They also wanted to send a message of thanks to Saxony team members who helped support them when they first arrived.
Getting connected to Fishers, IN
Dr. Rory Sandberg, head orthopedic surgeon at IU Health Orthopedics in Muncie, is no stranger to the Indianapolis area. His family currently lives in Fishers, and he also completed his fellowship at IU Health Saxony, IU Health Methodist and IU Health West hospitals.
Through their church and faith-centered desire to help others, both Sandberg and his wife felt called to do something when the Ukraine crisis broke out one year ago in February 2022. He was connected to WelcomeNST, an organization that helps guide groups in creating a network of community volunteers to be able to support a refugee family.
A team was built, mainly of Sandberg’s fellow church members, and shortly after, they found it was better to form their own charitable organization. Hamilton Hoosiers was created, and with the help of WelcomeNST—which has boots on the ground in Ukraine—the organization was matched with the Lobanov family.
“We were then able to submit the paperwork to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services for sponsorship,” Sandberg said. “It was approved and we were able to welcome the Lobanovs here in September 2022.”
A helping hand from team members
With the Lobanov family set to arrive in September 2022, Hamilton Hoosiers began fundraising to secure enough funds to find them an apartment and to live comfortably for about six months.
With his connection to IU Health, Sandberg reached out to IU Health Saxony—soon to be IU Health Fishers—to see if the hospital would be able to help.
“It just seemed like it was a good opportunity, since the Lobanovs live right by the hospital,” Sandberg said. “It also aligns with IU Health’s mission, and specifically Saxony’s mission, to help the community here in Fishers.”
Joy Davis, director of Guest Relations, Volunteer Services and Community Outreach, jumped at the opportunity, and suggested the hospital hold a donation drive.
From late August to early September, Saxony team members were invited to donate non-perishable foods, clothing and shoes, household items, schools supplies for the boys and monetary donations.
The hospital, which is going through an extensive expansion project, was also able to provide some furniture for the family as well.
“After seeing the horrific situation that so many Ukrainian families were facing because of Russia’s invasion of their country on the news, this donation drive provided an avenue for our team members to help ease the pain of one family,” Davis said. “We’re so glad that Dr. Sandberg reached out and gave us the opportunity to participate in this effort with Hamilton Hoosiers, and we hope these items made the Lobanov family feel welcome.”
Back in 2014, when the Lobanovs fled their home for the first time, Natalia remembers some people had offered help, but for the most part, people were aggressive and against those coming from the Donbas region.
That made moving to a completely different country all the more nerve-wracking, but when they made it to Fishers, met other families at church and received help from Saxony team members—they found the complete opposite.
“When we came to America, we were surrounded by great love and care and we are very grateful,” Natalia said. “We will never forget the kindness that was shown to our family. Thank you so much.”
Adjusting to life in America
Since arriving in September, the Lobanovs are working to adjust to their new lives in America. While it has been difficult at times, the family is staying busy.
Both Sasha and Natalia are taking English classes three times a week, and their sons are both enrolled in school. The family is also part of the same church as Sandberg and have participated in several activities there. Yegor plays on his school’s volleyball team, and both boys continue to master guitar.
The family has also experienced many American activities, including attending a group campout with their church, a Halloween party and the Headless Horseman experience at Connor Prairie, a ballet performance and Thanksgiving. They even found new board games to try at the local library.
Both Yegor and Gleb seem to like school more in America, in terms of school size, the cafeteria, teachers and lessons. They like that they have more free time in between their studies and home life. Natalia has also been sharing some of her culture by teaching friends how to cook traditional Ukrainian meals.
“It’s always hard to start a new life, but we're getting used to it because we have a lot of friends that are helping us,” Sasha said. “It would be really difficult if we were alone.”
An uncertain future, but with hope
Now safe in America, the Lobanovs are watching events unfold in Ukraine from thousands of miles away. While that future remains uncertain, they are taking their future in Fishers step-by-step.
Right now, Sasha and Natalia are working to open a bank account, find jobs and obtain driver’s licenses.
“We want to become fully independent,” Sasha said. “We probably will want to stay in the United States, to live here permanently.”
“When refugees come over, they can apply for a social security card and work authorization, but it takes several months. Those documents just arrived last week,” Sandberg explained. “We are now actively trying to find employment for both of them while still maintaining their ability to learn English.”
He’s even been in touch with Talent Acquisition teams at IU Health Saxony to see if there could be roles for them at the hospital.
Hamilton Hoosiers is currently working to bring another Ukrainian family over, and it’s something the group hopes to continue. One of the biggest challenges has been transportation for the families, and the group is seeking volunteers to drive.
“If we could continue to get more support from the community, there's no reason we couldn't continue to sponsor more families and help relocate them to this great area,” Sandberg said.
Learn more at https://hamiltonhoosiers.org