A small gesture by a Kirkland banker has made a big difference for a Ukrainian family.
Roman Sukhoy was living in Kyiv with his wife and two children when Russian forces invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. That day, he went to work at his job at the Canadian Embassy in Kyiv, in the visa department.
Because Eastern Ukraine has held minor conflicts with Russia for over 10 years, according to Sukhoy, neither he nor his colleagues at the Embassy thought the invasion would go as far Kyiv.
“When we heard that Metro partially stopped working, and the same day we heard some explosions, then our managers first left work, and then we didn’t know what to do so we just left the job,” said Sukhoy.
The family of four stayed in Kyiv for about two weeks, during which they saw lines for bread, medicine, and pet care. Having been surrounded by the noise of sirens, and having a depleted supply of his wife’s medication, Sukhoy made the decision to travel to West Ukraine.
Since the start of the war, Sukhoy attempted to stay away from the media to avoid discouraging his wife and children.
“We tried to spend time together just playing and staying at home because we had days of curfew that you weren’t allowed to walk from your apartment,” said Sukhoy. “It’s not a pleasant experience, and when you hear explosions all the time, daytime, nighttime, it’s not pleasant.”
Rivne was their next stop, where the family stayed with Sukhoy’s relatives for about a week. Sukhoy describes his time in Rivne as more peaceful than his time in Kyiv during the early days of the war.
Sukhoy’s son recently turned 10 years old, and his daughter will be 7 years old in July.
“I think for them, of course, when you hear the sirens and you see people running away or looking for a shelter, it will stay in your memory for all your life,” said Sukhoy. “Thankfully to God they haven’t seen real explosions. They heard explosions, but they haven’t seen real explosions.”
While in Rivne, Sukhoy bought all the medication that he could for his wife. But after a certain point, pharmacists told him they were unsure when the next medical supply shipment from Hungary would be received.
“After a week and a half, we decided to go back to America, but because they didn’t have flights in Ukraine, we had to go to Poland,” said Sukhoy. “We had to leave our guinea pig. We all cried because we all love our guinea pig, and the kids cried because we had to leave him in Ukraine.”
Having been born in the Soviet Union and having a deep family history of living through the communist regime, as well as WWII concentration camps, Sukhoy tried to teach his children about the balance of life — and how sometimes you see things in life that you don’t want to see.
When the family reached Warsaw, they saw citizens living a regular life: people were out riding bikes, kids were playing on the streets.
“It’s impossible not to be affected. A war is a terrible thing,” said Sukhoy.
Debit card issues leave family stranded in Warsaw
While in Rivne, Sukhoy attempted to use his debit card, but it was placed on a temporary hold, and he was unable to use it. He described how friends even sent him cash to assist, but he was unable to access it. Sukhoy contacted Chase Bank while in Warsaw, but with no success.
“They put me on such a long hold, and then I reached a person and they said, ‘We’re going to call you on the phone just to confirm it’s you,’” said Sukhoy. “But they never called me on a Ukrainian number, so I couldn’t do anything.”
Late one Saturday, Sukhoy’s mother, Lydia, was at the Chase Bank in Kirkland when she reached out for help.
“Right before we were closing, she came up to me and she asked me if there’s a way for her to access her son’s account and unlock his debit card for him,” said Zeyan Butt of Chase Bank in Kirkland.
At that point, Sukhoy was speaking with Lydia through Whatsapp because he didn’t have mobile data in Warsaw. Zeyan Butt could see that Lydia was visibly upset and wanted to assist.
With the store being closed, Butt asked Lydia to put her son on speaker phone to authenticate that he was the correct account holder on the debit card. The debit card issue was mitigated and temporarily resolved by the banker.
“I’m ethnically Kashmiri, so my people have also been going through the situation for the past 100 years. Kashmir has also been under oppression, and I’m sympathetic to what’s happening because I can relate to it,” said Butt. “I would not want anyone else, regardless of their race or creed, to be going through such situation.”
Making America a home
Since arriving in Kirkland, Sukhoy has been searching for a job and a doctor to receive medicine for his wife. Additionally, he’s been looking into school districts, and learned how the Lake Washington School District has some good schools.
Further concerns arise when thinking about when and where his children will attend school, combined with where he will get a job and find an apartment.
“All those issues at once, sometimes it will give you a headache,” said Sukhoy. “And my wife is on medication, so I have to find a job to support all our family because she’s not going to be able to work for some time, at least.”
Sukhoy hopes to find work in Kirkland, Bellevue, or Redmond. His mother, Lydia, lives in Kirkland, and he wishes to remain close to her.
“I’m a musician, but I gave that away a long time ago, so I’m looking for basically anything that will provide for my family,” said Sukhoy.
Sukhoy is a trained musician who has sung in the National Ukrainian Choir and the National Folk Ukrainian Choir, but had to change professions due to organizations wanting younger musicians.
The uncertainty of war
Due to the continued war, uncertainties about the medicine supply chain, lack of schools operating in the capitol, and Ukrainians being displaced all over the world, Sukhoy finds it dangerous to return.
“To be honest with you, if we didn’t have issues with medicine, we wouldn’t leave,” said Sukhoy. “If the war would stop right now and we knew that we can travel freely without any restrictions, probably we would move back.”
When the family left Kyiv, Sukhoy saw a light at the end of the tunnel. He had found a good job working for the Canadian Embassy, and they were renting their own apartment after living with his wife’s parents for some time.
“We left everything,” said Sukhoy. “We just took our documents, took two pairs of shoes and two pairs of clothing and we just left Kyiv because we thought that we are going to come back maybe eventually.”
Sukhoy described how he left watches he’s worn for decades, a coin collection he developed with his son, jewelry that was to be given to their daughter for her 7th birthday, and USBs full of childhood and family photos.
Due to these conflicts, Sukhoy and his family have chosen to make King County their home for the foreseeable future. He also believes the only way to stop the war in Ukraine is through love and forgiveness, even if the forgiveness is not asked for.
“People who have hate, people who are killing — they haven’t seen the love,” said Sukhoy. “They need someone to show them true love. And when we show them true love — more than yourself — this will stop the war. This is the only way.”
As for that coin collection Sukhoy had with his son:
“He told me him and his son had a coin collection. That’s how they used to spend time back in Ukraine,” said Butt. “I literally gave him all of my loose change of special coins.”