Deaf Ukrainian family flees war, begins new life in Rochester

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UPDATE 7/11/23: Following an outpouring of support from the community, the Maiar family was able to find an apartment in the North Winton Village area of Rochester.  They recently moved in and have been working to make the apartment a home.  They tell News10NBC they are excited to start a new life for their boys and grateful to have moved to such a welcoming community. 

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Thousands of Ukrainian refugees have been forced to flee their homes and country for safety, but imagine the additional challenges for a family who is deaf.  Anton and Svitlana Maiar lived a normal life in Mariupol with their two young sons until the war broke out.  They recently sat down with News10NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke to share more about their incredible story of survival and their hopes for the future now that they call Rochester home. 

The kitchen at the McGee home in Pittsford around dinner-time is full of a lot of people, a lot of food and a lot of love.  The McGees are a family of six but over the past three months, they’ve added another family of four to the mix. 

Anton, Svitlana, Samuel, and Adam Maiar were living a great life in Mariupol, Ukraine until Russia invaded. Mom and dad are deaf so they did the best they could at the start of the war.

“They were dropping bombs. It was a terrible thing to see,“ says Anton.

“We just kept going under, and we would use wood to try to stay warm because we had no gas, no utilities, no lights, no electricity, no running water,” he explains.

But when they were inside. “As deaf people there, we didn’t know where the artillery was coming from or the missile attacks,” says Svitlana. “We would ask people, are there evacuation routes? Are there buses? We had no information so we would just sit and wait in our home.”

The Maiar family home was hit and hit again.

“Our last remaining room was destroyed, we had nowhere to stay,” remembers Svitlana. 

So, after a brief stop at a shelter beneath a local college, the family decided to evacuate the country when they saw a fax come through with evacuation routes. They had to rely on 6-year-old Samuel who is hearing, to guide them.

“There was active shooting going on outside the building, so our oldest child, we said, do you hear the gunfire? Is it close? If you hear it let us know and we will lower and then get down on the ground.  So we gathered the kids and started to walk quickly,” recalls Svitlana.

The family got on a bus and eventually made their way to Germany where they remained in a refugee camp for 10 months. It was there they were connected with the McGee family through an organization called DeafBridge which has been working to help deaf people during the war. 

“Hopefully, if we were in a situation like that, someone would be willing to help, so I think that’s what drive us,” says Bill McGee.

McGee is deaf himself and while the rest of his family is hearing, they all know sign language, so they agreed to sponsor the Maiar family. They had to weed through a lot of paperwork with U.S. Immigration, but the Maiar family arrived about three months ago. They’ve been staying in the McGees’ finished basement. 

“Our friends, people in our church, people who have heard the story, it’s amazing. We call them angels. They show up at our doorstep with a gift card to a grocery store or sometimes food. Meals are delivered. People came with furniture, pillows. So, really, the Rochester community has stepped forward,” says Cheryl McGee. 

Since they arrived, Anton has secured a full time job in construction and works for a foreman who is also deaf, the boys are in school learning English and Svitlana is taking side jobs as a seamstress.

“We’ve been so thankful that God blessed us and our family. It’s a miracle that he got us this far,” Anton says.

But there are still plenty of challenges ahead.

“Right now, we’re focused on trying to get a car, get a driver license, find a place to live, settle our children, learn English, learn ASL, what the future holds – we don’t know,” Svitlana says. 

They are thankful for how far they’ve gotten though.

“For our children, we want to give them a new life, to be able to settle and grow…It doesn’t matter with us. God will take care of us. We want our children to have the opportunities,” Anton adds. 

The family is hoping to find a small home they can rent in the Rochester or Henrietta area, but the rental market is tough right now and coming from a war-torn country with no credit history, isn’t helping.  They’re hoping to connect with a landlord. 

The McGees have also set-up a GoFundMe account to help the Maiar Family, you can donate here.