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Logan StoryCorps: How two Ukrainian best friends fled war and came to Utah

Nataliya Provod, Mary Connin, Diana Abramenko facing the camera, standing.
Diana Abramenko, Mary Connin, and Nataliya Povod together in the StoryCorps mobile booth.

Nataliya and Diana are two Ukrainian young women who found themselves away from home when the war began. Their journey led them to Logan, Utah, and eventually to StoryCorps, where they shared their story.

KIRSTEN SWANSON: It's time again for Utah StoryCorps, everyday people sharing their stories at the StoryCorps recording booth in Logan.

MARY HEERS: Growing up in Ukraine, Nataliya and Diana met in a dance class when they were 15 and became best friends. In 2019 they left Ukraine to go to Egypt on vacation, never thinking they were beginning a journey that would take them to America.

NATALIYA POVOD: Let's go for a vacation to the Egypt.

DIANA ABRAMENKO: Just for a vacation.

NATALIYA POVOD: And what happened?

DIANA ABRAMENKO: So, we are so active girls, and some people they notice us and told, “Hey, guys, you need to go to work with us.”

NATALIYA POVOD: It sounds so fun, you know, because it's like Egypt, palms. December it's so super warm, and it's dream job! It was terrible. It was like 13 hours per day working and $11 per day.

So, I was working in Ukraine a lot.


NATALIYA POVOD: I was a makeup artist and English tutor building my own life, got a house, got a car. So just like normal people do.

DIANA ABRAMENKO: And I just like to study business because I would like to open in the future some of the businesses, and --

NATALIYA POVOD: We just decided, because we are love traveling and we are love studying. So everything, what is about studying somewhere, not at home? So yes, we are in.

DIANA ABRAMENKO: So, because of this, we decided to go to the Czech Republic business academies.

NATALIYA POVOD: And came there for three months, nothing else.

DIANA ABRAMENKO: I started to learn everything about business. I wanted to open like the Sephora in Ukraine, but the war had started and everything’s changed.

NATALIYA POVOD: So it was just early morning, and we just went downstairs like to the common room. And I just came up to one Ukrainian girl. “Hey, what's going on?” And she's all, “You didn't hear? The war has started in our country.”

I just wanted to move to, to run, to do something; we couldn't just sit and waiting.

DIANA ABRAMENKO: And we decided to go.

NATALIYA POVOD: First plan was go to the Norway. And then we just decided, let's apply for Canadian visa.

But my mom, she lives in Logan, Utah. And she's like, “I didn't see you for a few years, and the war has started. I want you to come closer, at least for a while.” And I was like, okay, let’s think … there is no programs for Ukrainians in US at that moment.

And some lawyers started posting that, like, Ukrainian people are allowed to go through the Mexican border and they are getting humanitarian parole from the officers. So it's, like, not illegal stuff. But we couldn't find any information on official website. So like, is it illegal? I can’t understand and like, let's try, we will find out.

DIANA ABRAMENKO: We took a risk. We had a flight from Prague to then Madrid to Guadalajara to Tijuana.

NATALIYA POVOD: We got inside and we see like hundreds of volunteers. They’re register you for crossing the border. So you need to have a number to cross it. They –

DIANA ABRAMENKO: -- took us to the shelter for the Ukrainians.

NATALIYA POVOD: Yeah. And we were scared all the time. Nobody knew how long would they accept people to go through the border. And actually, we’ll just tell ahead that just two days after we crossed the border, they canceled it for a while.

DIANA ABRAMENKO: Finally we are here!

NATALIYA POVOD: Again, food and volunteers. We stayed in the branch in the church. There were some other people, like other refugees and there were kitchen, everything. They brought a truck with shower. Hot water!

NATALIYA POVOD: Perfect thing. So what do we do next? We are in San Diego but we have to get to Logan, Utah. Mom's friend picked up her son from the border.

NATALIYA POVOD: They could pick us up at that moment.

NATALIYA POVOD: It's really amazing. But I remember I had some suntan in California, and I saw Arizona, it's so beautiful, and then through Nevada. But when we enter to Utah, I saw snow. I’m like no, no, no.

And we were waiting for our work permits for almost a year. And we just decided, because we are love traveling --

DIANA ABRAMENKO: -- we went to New York. So, at the end of this month we will move to New York.

My dream is to open a manufacturing of cars. I want to create my brand. But it's a lot a lot of investment, so I would think into opening New York some sort of print shop -- T-shirts, bags -- to start with something smaller.

NATALIYA POVOD: Yeah, and I will do make designs for this. I don't know about cars, but for T-shirts I can do.

DIANA ABRAMENKO: She's incredible graphic designer.


KIRSTEN SWANSON: Support for Logan StoryCorps comes from Cache County and USU Credit Union, a division of Goldenwest.

Mary got hooked on oral histories while visiting Ellis Island and hearing the recorded voices of immigrants that had passed through. StoryCorps drew her to UPR. After she retired from teaching at Preston High, she walked into the station and said she wanted to help. Kerry put her to work taking the best 3 minutes out of the 30 minute interviews recorded in Vernal. Passion kicked in. Mary went on to collect more and more stories and return them to the community on UPR's radio waves. Major credits to date: Utah Works, One Small Step, and the award winning documentary Ride the Rails.
Kirsten grew up listening to Utah Public Radio in Smithfield, Utah and now resides in Logan. She has three children and is currently producing Utah StoryCorps and working as the Saturday morning host on UPR. Kirsten graduated from Utah State University with a Bachelor's degree History in 2000 and dual minors in Horticulture and German. She enjoys doing voice work, reading, writing, drawing, teaching children, and dancing. Major credits include StoryCorps, Utah Works, One Small Step, and the APTRA award-winning documentary Ride the Rails.
Check out our past StoryCorps episodes.