Olga and Burak Akkan, owners of Mr. Gyro Hero in Seaside, are hosting family members who fled Ukraine in April, as the Russian invasion was intensifying. “They are happy they’re here. They’re happy they’re safe,” Olga says. “But the reason they came is a sad one.”
There are many Ukrainians in the Walton County area, and Olga has met with people who shared their experiences. “Every story is individual,” she says. “When you hear people saying, ‘Thank God my family didn’t have to stay in the basement.’ People have food for only 12 days. People dying not just from bombs, but from hunger; they can’t get insulin or antibiotics.”
With belongings that would fit into only one carry-on luggage piece, Olga Akkan’s cousin, also named Olga, as well as her boyfriend, Kiril, Olga Akkan’s sister Oksana and her nephew Oleksiy, made the long and expensive journey to the U.S. to stay with the Akkans. “It was a big stress for them, and I was trying to help them take each step, which I didn’t know was going to happen myself,” Olga says. “Unfortunately, not everyone can make the journey because of the ticket price.”
Olga grew up in Ukraine and came to the States in 2010, returning to her home country for frequent visits. “I was there in January and was planning to go back this summer,” she says. “No one thought there would be a war, no one. When the U.S. took their people out of the Embassy, and the flights stopped, that’s when I told my parents they needed to come here. I tried to get them to come, but they still didn’t want to leave. My father is doing his part, running an online school and still trying to keep things normal.”
Now, Olga and Burak have nine people living in their three-bedroom house. As a sponsor in United for Ukraine, she’s also trying to help a friend with children to come here.
“If you would like to help Ukrainians in need, there are many charitable organizations that you can contribute to, even your local church,” Olga says. “When this all started, I didn’t know what to do. I’m doing what I can to help keep them safe.”