I Fled the War in Ukraine. Now I Must Find My Footing in the U.S. with AS.
SAA received this message from a refugee of the war in Ukraine, who has recently resettled in the U.S. with his wife. We share Iurii’s story here with our thanks, and deepest wishes for their health and wellbeing.
My name is Iurii (pronounced Yuriy) Gryga. I am from Kyiv, Ukraine, and am 59 years old.
I started having symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis (AS) 10 years ago after training on a sports sailing yacht. There was hypothermia and prolonged static loading in wet clothes. The disease was confirmed not immediately, but three months later. A second opinion in Germany confirmed my diagnosis.
Fortunately, progression of my disease has been reduced by NSAIDs, hormones, and sulfasalazine. I did not apply for disability, because in Ukraine, financial assistance from the government is insignificant.
On February 24, 2022, my wife Tetiana and I left Kyiv due to the outbreak of war. For three days we waited in line at the Polish border, passing vehicles with women and children. We slept in the car. We were not allowed to leave Ukraine because the presidential decree on the mobilization of men aged 18-60 for military service came into force.
All hotels in western Ukraine were already occupied by refugees. We were in despair.
In a border town, I decided to undergo a medical examination and received confirmation of unfitness for military service—thanks to a rheumatologist from the Ukrainian city of Sambir, who was attentive to my illness. This helped me to be able to travel outside Ukraine.
The queue at the border was still 1,200 to 1,500 cars. Leaving our car behind, we left Ukraine for Hungary by train. We got to Budapest, Hungary, and then by air, via Reykjavik, Iceland, we got to Chicago. It took two weeks to get here to the U.S., altogether.
Now my wife and I are living in Toledo, OH. Volunteers gave us everything we needed; there is a roof over our heads.
Thanks to the fact that I stocked up on sulfasalazine, I still have enough for a month. I took Diann’s [Diann Peterson, SAA’s Chief Philanthropy Officer] recommendation for a doctor in Toledo. Thanks to this, I was able to get a new prescription for sulfasalazine.
People in Ohio are extremely friendly, but federal law doesn’t allow full integration into society. We feel completely powerless. I can’t confirm my Ukrainian driver’s license, I can’t get a social security number, and I can’t even go to short-term truck driver courses.
In Ukraine, I was the owner of several men’s formal clothing stores called MASSIMO. Now I own nothing. My wife and I are workaholics and are not used to being freeloaders. After getting permission to work, and confirming my driver’s license, I will go to a truck driver school. We hope to find a way to be productive.
In the meantime, we have volunteered with the new nonprofit, Toledo Helps Ukraine, packing boxes of essential items for refugees of the war in Europe.
For me, each period of remission during this disease means great happiness.
Dear friends, please appreciate the possibilities of living in a country like the U.S., waking up without war, rejoicing every morning.
If you’d like to support those affected by the war in Ukraine, below is a listing of just some of the nonprofits working to aid refugees:
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