Inside a classroom at St. Athanasius Catholic Academy in Brooklyn, you can find 11-year-old Theodore Gaynullin.
Gaynullin is the first Ukrainian refugee the school has welcomed, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“I miss my grandma, and grandpa, and cat,” says Gaynullin.
Although shy at times, Gaynullin says he’s already making new friends. His favorite classes are math and gym.
Both he and his mother Ellen Caravan are U.S. citizens and have spent time in New York City.
In the last few years, Kyiv was their home. The two made the difficult decision to flee days after Russia attacked.
With one book bag for the both of them, they walked 15 miles to the Ukrainian-Polish border and eventually caught a flight to New York.
“I told my child we don’t have a choice here. You can see a lot of people with kids. If they’re walking we are walking,” says Caravan.
Caravan still has family members back in Ukraine that she worries about, but for now, her focus is to restart her life in NYC.
She has enrolled at Long Island University to take classes and become a paralegal. Caravan and her son are happy their new community has welcomed them with open hearts.
“We have to be able to welcome them. As we welcomed Theodore and his mom…we have to be able to do that…across our school system and the city,” says Monsignor David Cassato, the Pastor at St. Athanasius Church.