Last year, when Russia invaded Ukraine, Nichole Robichaux couldn’t just stand by and watch the war unfold. “My family was horrified by the innocent civilians affected by this travesty,” says Robichaux, an agent with Keller Williams Realty Professionals in Slidell, La. “At first, my family felt petrified by fear. However, it wasn’t long after that we learned that the United States would accept refugees.”
Robichaux, AHWD, like many REALTORS® who have stepped up to help Ukraine, says she and her husband sat down with their two teenage sons to talk about opening their home to refugees. “They were immediately on board,” she says. She went to Facebook and found a group where Ukrainian refugees were seeking U.S. sponsors and hosts. Robichaux posted that she had a room available. “Not five minutes after sharing that post, I was flooded with messages.”
Overwhelmed with the response, Robichaux says she and her family opted to take refugees on a first-come, first-serve basis—and that’s how she met Sasha and her daughter, Yasia. Six months to the day after the Russian conflict started, Sasha and Yasia arrived at Robichaux’s home. “It was a leap of faith for every last one of us,” Robichaux recalls. Robichaux and her family turned their guest room into a comfortable and inviting space, adding a mini-fridge, television and a cat tree for Sasha and Yasia’s pet.
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Robichaux has assisted the refugees with paperwork, obtaining driver’s licenses, learning English and getting Yasia settled in a new school. Robichaux also helped Sasha secure employment, a computer and a car. “It sounds like a lot of giving, but we have received so much in return,” Robichaux says. “Sasha and Yasia are like family to us now. We cannot wait to visit Ukraine when it is safe to do so and receive our highly anticipated grand tour of the country. We learn from them about different cultures; my sons are learning how to interact with people who they may have different ideas from.”
That was seven months ago. Now Sasha and Yasia are preparing to move out on their own and are close to paying off the car Robichaux helped them purchase. They’ve also found a home to rent.
The experience of hosting has changed her family, Robichaux says. “Having Sasha and Yasia living with us made the war into a tangible, real thing. It is one thing to see it on the news, but when you have two real people directly affected by the war—hearing how they fled the bombs on the morning of [Feb. 24, 2022] in the dark, early morning hours with the clothes on their backs, their cat and a few documents they managed to gather—was harrowing.”
Robichaux and her family plan to open their doors to other Ukrainian refugees after Sasha and Yasia move on. Robichaux has even started a local Facebook group to help Ukrainian refugees connect with each other. “We are excited to be able to help another family get somewhere safe,” she says, noting she’s already in contact with another Ukrainian family in need of a place to stay. “They have two younger children—a young teen boy and an 8-year-old girl—so we’re starting to build a small community of Ukrainians in our area.”