Ukrainian exchange student, now a refugee, brings family to Orlando

Children are enrolling in Orange County Public Schools

ORLANDO, Fla. – As outrage grows over suspected war crimes by Russia, many Ukrainians have been fleeing the country seeking refuge in Poland. One family not only crossed the border, they traveled across the Atlantic for safety in Central Florida.

Fifteen years ago, the mom was here as an exchange student. Now, she’s staying back with that same family as a refugee, and reliving her horrifying experience over the past few weeks.

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Yulia Gerbut said she woke up hours after her 36th birthday to the sounds of bombings near her home in Kyiv.

“I yelled to the kids get down, get down,” said Gerbut. “I see an explosion.”

She grabbed her two sons and they took shelter inside of a sauna in their basement.

“There were seven to eight helicopters, like really huge military helicopters,” said Gerbut.

They arrived in Central Florida last Thursday after spending time in refugee camps, before making it to the Slovakian border.

“It took us one week to get from Kyiv to Orlando,” she said.

Now, she’s getting more acclimated to Orlando, living once again with her host mom, who she first met 20 years ago as a foreign exchange student while attending Apopka high school -- and they’ve kept in touch ever since.

“It was such a relief when she walked through the doors,” said Meegan Yockus. “I had been worried at least for a week and had kept in touch with her.”

Her sons though have to adjust to a new life, and a new school, and Gerbut said Orange County Public Schools helped her easily enroll them Wednesday.

“So, he can continue French, that’s why they ended up at Lakeview School, and Max is so much into science, and they have a STEM program,” said Gerbut.

“We are really, really grateful to be here safe,” Gerbut said. “It just breaks my heart to see what is happening to my country.”

Orange County Public School district told News 6:

“OCPS makes every effort to ensure that students coming here from Ukraine are not delayed in enrolling in school due to missing documents or other issues, and we work with every family on a case-by-case basis as needed for their individual situation. Our schools also work to connect them with other organizations that can provide assistance, again based on the specific needs of the family.”

About the Author:

Jerry Askin is an Atlanta native who came to News 6 in March 2018 with an extensive background in breaking news.