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After a Somerset woman's father died she decided to give his room to a Ukrainian family

Duffany and Lysyi
Ashley Duffany welcomed Olek Lysyi, a Ukranian high school student, to Somerset for a month-long visit last year. Now, Lysyi and his parents will be moving in with the Diman teacher Photo by Robert Duffany

Audrey Cooney
The Herald News

SOMERSET — For one teacher at Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School, welcoming a Ukrainian student and his parents who fled the Russian invasion into her home felt like a no-brainer.

“It really did come down to the fact that it’s just the right thing to do. I felt like I had to do this,” said Ashley Duffany, a Somerset resident and history teacher at the school.

Last winter, as Russia began its invasion of Ukraine, Duffany connected over Instagram with Olek Lysyi, at the time an 18-year-old student from Irpin, Ukraine. The two forged a friendship, with Duffany passing along information from Lysyi about the situation on the ground in Ukraine to her students.

After a few weeks of correspondence, Duffany and her husband Rob decided to invite Lysyi to visit them in Somerset as a way of taking a break from his life as a refugee in Poland. The teen connected with Diman students, practiced his English and got familiar with the Fall River area.

Lysyi went back to Poland for the current school year, but he and Duffany stayed in touch. Around Christmas time last year, he and his parents mentioned that they had only a few months left before they would have to leave their current housing, a small apartment in a church office.

Sponsorship through Uniting for Ukraine

So, the Duffanys decided to sponsor Lysyi and his parents to come to the U.S. through Uniting for Ukraine, a Biden administrator immigration program that allows Ukrainian citizens to come to the U.S. for up to two years.

“We came to the consensus that we have the space, it just made sense for us to invite them,” Duffany said.

New house in Somerset provides space for the family

Duffany said she and her husband had intentionally bought a home in Somerset with extra room in order to house her ailing father, who passed away while they were still in the process of closing on the house. Now, she said, it makes sense to open that extra space to people in need.

“He was a very charitable person” Duffany said of her father. “It was kind of, let me do something that he would be proud of and be looking down and thinking that this was the right thing to do.”

Ukrainian family arriving in June

The family’s application was approved, and they now plan to touch down at Logan International Airport at the end of June.

And this fall, Lysyi plans to be a student at Diman before hopefully moving on to a college in the U.S. He’s currently studying IT and cyber security at a tech school in Poland.

How to help the Ukrainian refugees

Right now, the family in Poland is focused on getting ready for their move. Lysyi’s parents are eager to get back to work – their refugee status in Poland meant they were unable to work legally, but they will be allowed to do so in the U.S. – and plan to find an apartment of their own within a few months of moving to Somerset, Duffany said. She’s set up an online fundraiser to help them buy things like clothes and other supplies they’ll need as they settle in.

But most importantly, having the Duffanys to welcome them to the U.S. will provide some much-needed stability for a family that was uprooted 16 months ago.

“They’ll have a home for the first time in a year,” Duffany said.

“So it was the perfect fit,” Duffany said.