Generosity from old friends, new ones, and strangers spanned the globe to bring four displaced
Ukrainian women and their children safely to Oak Ridge this past spring.
“We met very helpful people all along,” Tetiana “Tania” Alfimova said.
Tania and the other women – Mariia “Masha” Rudiuk, Olha “Olya” Kvach, and Olya’s mother,
Tamara – are among 200 Ukrainians welcomed in East Tennessee after Russian forces invaded
their homeland in February.
The women and their children, ages 10 months to 12 years old, arrived in Oak Ridge on April 12,
thanks to a humanitarian program known as Uniting for Ukraine, which allowed them to
temporarily enter the US after a sponsor agreed to support them during their stay.
Grant Ceffalo, an American radiation safety project manager with ties to Oak Ridge and Ukraine,
offered to be their sponsor.
As an administrative manager for the Chernobyl Research and Development Institute, Tania
worked with Grant when he moved in 2016 to Ukraine to oversee a project at the Chernobyl
Nuclear Power Plant.
“Our project was finished in 2019, but we were still friends and my husband was also friends
with him,” Tania said.
Grant had also befriended Masha, an economist for a gas-drilling company who had been friends
with Tania ever since they met as students at the International University of Finance.
Through his work for a global engineering and project management firm, Grant has traveled the
world to oversee environmental safety and restoration projects, including a two-year stint in Oak
Ridge. He was working in the US when the Russian invasion of Ukraine began.
In texting friends to make sure they were safe, he learned Tania and Masha had plans to stay
with Masha’s older sister in Poland.
“My older sister was the first person to help us when we left,” Masha said. “She moved there
four or five years ago and has a small flat there and was first to help us on the first day of the
war. She said, ‘Who wants to come?’”
Masha and her 3-year-old son, Artem, met Tania and her daughters, Mira, 12, and Ksyusha, 9, at
the border, where they waited hours in below-freezing conditions to cross into Poland.
“The Polish people really were incredible,” Tania said. “At the border, they gave us food, clothes
and whatever we needed.”
Masha’s sister housed them until Grant let them know he wanted to sponsor their stay in the US.
Meanwhile, Tania had learned that Mira’s rhythmic gymnastics coach, Olya, was holed up with
her mother and 10-month-old daughter, Nikol, in a room under a building that had been turned
into a shelter.
“I told him, ‘I can’t leave these people,’” Tania said. “They were in a bomb shelter under the
ground with no windows, no toilet. It was cold.”
Grant arranged to fly all of them from Warsaw to Paris. They missed their connecting flight in
Paris due to long lines at the airport, but Air France, after hearing of their circumstances, agreed
to pay for another flight to Mexico City.
Grant met them in Mexico, helped them cross the border in Tijuana, flew with them to Atlanta,
then Knoxville and brought them to a house he purchased for them in Oak Ridge.
Once there, the women were connected with Bridge Refugee Services, who helped them apply
for support services offered through the Tennessee Office of Refugees.
“Anna, our Bridge case manager for us, was very helpful,” Tania said.
After the women’s applications for government food assistance were denied, for instance, Tania
said Anna was able to help them reapply and get approved.
Bridge also helped with school supplies and enrolling Tania’s daughters in school in late April.
“They helped show us how to get to school and the people from Bridge gave me some advice
and explained how the school system works in the US,” she said.
While the girls already knew some English, they have been working with tutors to improve their
skills over the summer.
“They have every day lessons and so I hope it will be easier for them,” Tania said.
Throughout the resettlement process, Tania has continued to work remotely, though the 7-hour
time difference has proved challenging.
“With the work day starting in Ukrainian time, it’s not easy for me, but I try to support my
company and Ukraine’s economy,” she said.
While Masha is still receiving her salary from her company, she isn’t equipped to do her work
yet from East Tennessee.
“I’m still employed, but I’m not working,” she said. “I can’t do anything without my computer.”
Olya hopes to return to coaching once she receives employment authorization, and Tania hopes
Mira can continue with her rhythmic gymnastics training soon. Artem will start preschool in the
“I’m very happy he will have the opportunity to be with the same age kids,” Masha said.
The women worry for their husbands, brothers, nephews, and other family and friends who stayed
in Ukraine. Most men aged 18-60 were banned from leaving the country in case they were called
up to fight.
“Some are still working,” Tania said. “All of them are trying hard to do their best to volunteer.”
Tania’s and Olya’s husbands have transported food, medicine, and other supplies to support the
“They’re also helping people get to a safe place,” Tania said. “They’re sharing everything they
The women said they are able to Facetime and text with their loved ones most days. With Artem
being so young, it’s important to Masha that her son sees his father’s face and hears his voice.
“He’s very talkative,” she said. “We’re trying to do this every day, but there have been a few
days without connection.”
The women said their new community has welcomed them in a myriad of ways. Neighbors
furnished the home, stocked the pantry, delivered toys, bikes, and clothing for the children, taught
them how to prepare American food, and helped with transportation.
“They’re very supportive of us in emotional ways,” Masha said. “We’d be lost without them.”
Tania agreed, saying their neighbors and new friends have been helpful from day one and
continue to be a source of support.
“From there to here, we have had a lot of people support us,” she said.