Bensonhurst community welcomes Ukrainian family who fled amid Russian invasion
A Ukrainian family who fled their country amid the Russian invasion was welcomed into the Bensonhurst community with open arms.
Theodore Gaynulli is the first Ukrainian refugee to attend St. Athanasius Academy in Bensonhurst since the Russian invasion began.
Gaynulli and his mother, Ellen Caravan, are U.S. citizens who were living in Kyiv when Russia began dropping bombs on the capital city. They had to walk 15 miles to the Polish border before getting on a flight to New York. They took only what they could carry.
“I took our passports, one bookbag, a Stop-and-Shop bag with food and that was it,” Caravan says.
Once they settled in Brooklyn, Caravan knew she wanted her son to go to school at St. Athanasius.
"Great school, great attitude, teachers and kids,” she says.
Monsignor David Cassato, a pastor at St. Athanasius Church, says a generous resident donated $1,000 to go towards Gaynulli’s tuition.
“Somebody heard the story, and they live in Staten Island, and they sent $1,000 for Theodore's tuition. Amazing how people are connecting with people,” Cassato says.
St. Athanasius Academy Principal Diane Competello says the school community came together to support Gaynulli as well.
“We also had parents who donated uniform articles for the child so that mom wouldn't have that expense…the children here were so welcoming when they came in,” she says.
Gaynulli and his mother still worry about their family who chose to stay in Kyiv, but they hope to be able to see them again sometime soon.