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Life, according to Andy Kulina ’87 (part 1) – Hosting a Ukrainian family

Submitted by Lyna Kelley, director of communications and PR, and Judy Crist, executive director of communications and creative services

In summer 2023, Moreover interviewed alumnus Andy Kulina to learn more about his life since graduating in 1987. Andy explains, in this portion of the interview, the circumstances that led to his family hosting a displaced Ukrainian family at their home in the UK.

Q: Tell me how you got involved with hosting the family from the Ukraine.

AK: It just came up. We’ve got this place that we bought when I moved out of London, and I ended up near Cambridge in one of the villages. We’ve got our garage and the upstairs of it is a little apartment, we call it the annex. It’s a little studio apartment and when we first had Olivia and needed help, we had au pairs stay with us from Europe. They got to live in the UK, it’s only about 30 yards behind our house but it’s got a private entrance so they could go do whatever they wanted to do on the weekend. They’re young girls who want to see London or see England, they don’t want to sit with a family and watch Netflix. They could have their own space. It was going to be my man cave, but it became the au pair place. Then Brexit happened over here and you can’t get au pairs anymore because they can’t work in the UK. 

It was sitting empty, and it was just like a perfect storm when we heard about this Homes for Ukraine program which lots of countries have something similar. The UK actually was pretty forward thinking in it, and they made it super simple to get paired with a family. We were looking into it and got a note from my younger daughter’s school that there was a family already in the next village over and that lady’s sister was wanting to come over to be near family. We got the email and we had just been talking about it and thought, “Okay, this must be fate. Let’s do it.” The mom and the daughter came over and then the dad, he’s got some injuries so he can’t fight, he also got released because the daughter was having nightmares. They were in the first village that was invaded when the war started, it started in Suni where they’re from. She’s couldn’t sleep from the nightmares and stuff, so he came over and joined them. It’s great, we had a barbecue with them this weekend. We do some stuff together. He speaks pretty good English; I got him a job with a local supermarket doing deliveries. She’s learning English. The daughter is nine, the same age as my daughter, they’re going to school together. It worked out well.

People in the village are helping out. People came – this garage we have for the au pair had a little kitchenette and had a little microwave that was also a convection oven, a small sink. A couple of people around here – builders and stuff, we built it into a proper size kitchen with a full fridge and a full freezer. I put in a washing machine so that it’s a living unit. Other people – back to that service thing, right? I’m busy, I don’t have time but I can give you two hours to knock a hole in the wall and put in some pipes so we can put in a washing machine. It was really good see other people do that.

I think the important message is, a lot of people say, “I don’t have time to do that. I don’t have time to do this. Susie’s got soccer practice and Johnny’s got to go to dance class or whatever.” There is time for you to do something, what that something is you might have to dig a little deeper, like our kids, right? You can’t stand on the sidelines and referee a football game for the junior football team, because you don’t have time to do that on a Saturday, but there’s lots of stuff that you can do. Go online, there’s lots of things you can do. You might not have space in your home but maybe you can teach English to a refugee or something. There’s a way to do stuff, right? You just have to find and shuffle and coordinate.

Q: Is there a timeline? I guess it depends on how the war goes over in the Ukraine how long you’ll be hosting the family?

AK: Here’s a little bit of dark humor, quite a funny line. We had to, after six months, the government had us fill in a form. We did it separately and together just to make sure everything’s okay and to check safety, check to make sure that they’re happy, we’re happy – the whole thing. There were some lines we put together, we had some questions we had to answer together on the form. We’re doing this online thing together, Roman and I, and the one question asks, “How long do you think the visiting family will stay with the host family.” He said, “I’ll answer this one.” And he answered it, “Ask Putin.” I said, “Let’s leave that.” He said, “We can’t write that.”  I said, “Yes, because that’s a silly question.” I think when the time comes; they have their family. It’s interesting, it’s Roman, Iryna, and Anna. Iryna’s sister was in the other village, she’s the one that brought her (Iryna) here. They have now moved, because he (the sister’s husband) got a job about two hours from here. They have moved from their host family and they’re renting a place. Iryna’s older daughter from a previous relationship has just come over with her baby girl, from Ukraine. We’ve got three generations. They’re (daughter and child) are now live in the house where her (Iryna’s) sister lived, but because the girl (she’s 26) is working a lot, most of the time they’re over here. We’ve got a big garden/yard with a trampoline and stuff. I think at some point, he’s now got a job and she’s learning English, if it becomes two years or something like that, I imagine their back to, is this where they want to live? Then they’ll probably move out and get a house together or something like that.