Help For Heartache

By Jennifer Miele
Chief Communications Officer/Managing Director for Evangelization

Never in her wildest dreams did Dariia Savenko think she would find herself in a refugee camp, sheltering her children from a thunderous downpour with a single poncho. The 37-year-old mother of two fled her home shortly after the Russians invaded Ukraine in February 2022. She left behind the beautiful of city of Dnipro, Ukraine’s powerhouse of banking and trade comparable to the size of Philadelphia.

“It was very scary and unexpected for Ukrainian people,” Savenko said. “We did not believe our closest neighbors would attack.”

Ukraine used to be part of the Soviet Union but declared independence in the early 1990s. Russia wants to turn back the clock, and once again rule Ukraine. Two years after the initial invasion that stunned the world, Russia’s military continues to throw everything it has at Savenko’s hometown.

Artillery and attack drones have destroyed entire city blocks. The invaders steal everything that survives the bombings, loading up clothes and furniture on military vehicles to ship back to Russia. They even take the lightbulbs.

The only thing left behind after major battles are tripwires, designed to explode and kill any  Ukrainian who returns home. More than 300,000 people have been killed, equivalent to the population of the city of Pittsburgh.

Savenko and her children, Zaryna, 13, and Zlata, 9, are among the 10 million Ukrainians who have fled the country. With limited access to her assets and almost no knowledge of English, she first found refuge with family members in New Jersey.

“It was difficult to find a job and a school for my children because of the language,” Savenko said. “We wanted to start a new life, but we were not sure exactly how to do it.”

Savenko and other Ukrainian refugees like Andrii Babak saw posts on Facebook about the Diocese of Greensburg Ukrainian Relocation Project, administered by Catholic Charities. The program offers rental and utility assistance, ESL classes, and job training placement, as well as spiritual and mental health support.

“I had my own transportation company in Ukraine with three trucks and three trailers,” Babak said. “I had to sell it all and leave for the United States to try and find safety.”

Savenko, Babak and others visited the Diocese of Greensburg in July 2023. Business and community partners

like General Carbide and the Economic Growth Connection of Westmoreland County were there to greet them, alongside Catholic Charities.

“As we were preparing our Christian outreach for the Ukrainians, we were simultaneously approached by community and business leaders who told us they would help sustain our mission by providing employment opportunities and even on-site job interviews when individuals come to visit,” said Bishop Larry J. Kulick.

Business leaders like Mona Pappafava Ray, President and CEO of General Carbide, are eager for a chance to help.

“Not only is this a charitable outreach, but it is also a way to connect individuals who want to work with the many opportunities available in Westmoreland County,’” Pappafava Ray said. “The labor shortage in this area is no secret. We are excited about the opportunity, even on a small scale, to have an influx of potential candidates.”

The Pappafava-Ray Foundation has committed more than $100,000 to the project in 2024, and led a Christmas brigade for the refugees, supplying and delivering gifts to each family.

“I am so thankful that the community of Western Pennsylvania provides this kind of support to Ukrainians,” said Father Oleh Seremchuk, Ukrainian Relocation Coordinator for Catholic Charities. He is also Pastor of St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Church in Scottdale and St. Nicholas Byzantine Catholic Church in Perryopolis.

Father Seremchuk, a native of Ukraine, is leading efforts to bring more families to the area.

“These people have lost everything they know and must start again. They want to work, but they need an opportunity to do that,” he said.

The Economic Growth Connection recognized immediately that the existing Ukrainian population in Western

Pennsylvania could be a gateway to the next wave of Ukrainian immigration. Western Pennsylvania is home to the fourth largest Ukrainian population in the United States.

“There’s no doubt, this could help us to build a connection for many of the businesses in our community,” said Jim Smith, President and CEO of the Economic Growth Connection, a private, nonprofit economic development corporation. “I’ve had employers tell me that they are ready and willing to hire individuals who may not necessarily have all the requisite skills but are willing to be trained. Having more diverse channels and a wider reach for recruiting talent is a responsive strategy and one we will hope will work.”

Babak and Savenko were paired with employers within weeks of coming to Greensburg. They were overwhelmed by the Christmas brigade, and months later, are still beaming from the love and charity they have received.

“Many talented individuals have had to flee Ukraine and are pursuing opportunities elsewhere around the country, and there are no shortages of opportunities in Westmoreland County. Hopefully, the business community can take an active role in the multitude of opportunities here,” said Melaney Hegyes, Managing Director of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Greensburg.

“If you or your organization would like to support this Catholic Charities initiative, online donations are being accepted at”


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