With help and hard work, Ukrainian musician and her 2 kids make Ridgefield home

RIDGEFIELD — Ukraine native Nadiia Shushura said every day when she wakes up in Ridgefield, she feels grateful. Three years ago, she left everything she knew behind with the goal of making a better life for herself and her two young children.

Since moving to Ridgefield in late August, Shushura said due to the generosity of the Ridgefield and surrounding community, she has been able to get her violin teaching business off the ground and settle her two children — Denys, 13, and Maryna, 8, into school and activities in town.

She's living rent- and utility-free in the home of Ridgefield resident Vincent Giordano and his wife Susan Betterly, and getting free child care at the town's Boys & Girls Club — while working toward her goal of becoming financially independent.  

Journey to America

In November of 2019, after winning a Green Card in the lottery, Shushura — a single mother who was living with her parents — came from Ukraine to the U.S., settling in New Jersey. She left her children in her parents' care to see if she could make a life for herself in the U.S., with plans to come back for them once she got established. She spoke no English.

"I wanted to to use my chance to get here and just see maybe if it will be better," said Shushura, who is 35.

She later moved to Connecticut, renting rooms in Trumbull and Bridgeport, and earned money by cleaning homes and babysitting while trying to establish her teaching business. She took English language classes at local community colleges and began working as a music teacher in Stamford at the Harmony of Music and Arts School. 

Once war broke out in Ukraine earlier this year, she immediately returned to her homeland to get her children and bring them back with her to the U.S.

Community support

Through connections she made at English language classes, she was introduced to Giordano and his wife, who opened their home to her and her children.

"When (Vladimir) Putin invaded the Ukraine and started to commit atrocities, I called the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Stamford and asked if I could be of help," said Giordano, who is 65.

"I said 'We have a third floor we're not using and if there's any Ukrainians that are immigrating to the United States and need a place to help get them started, they're welcome to stay in the house," Giordano said. The couple have a grown son who no longer lives at home with them. 
 
"I wanted to give them a safe place to get started," added Giordano, who is a volunteer with the Ridgefield Action Committee for the Environment.

He was then introduced to Shushura and moved her into his home in a short period of time.
  
Giordano, who is retired, helps Shushura and the kids where needed — putting them on the bus in the mornings and picking them up from the Boys & Girls Club, where they go after school, so that Shushura can travel to Stamford to teach music.

"The Boys & Girls Club has been so helpful," said Giordano, adding the club is offering their services to the Shushuras for a year at no charge.

Another nonprofit who will be helping the family this holiday season, Giordano said, is Ridgefield's Evelyn C Peeler Children's Holiday Gift Fund, which provides clothing and toys to children in need.

He added his neighborhood also been very supportive in helping the kids acclimate to life in town.
 
For Halloween, neighbors came to a pumpkin-carving party Giordano hosted.

"Halloween was a new experience for them," he said. "Nadiia and her children went house to house in the neighborhood, playing their instruments on Halloween." Maryna plays the violin like her mother and Denys plays the flute.

Giordano is helping the children learn English. 

"When I pick them up from Boys & Girls Club. I'll always ask them, 'What did you learn today? Tell me one new thing you learned.' Then I wait. They have to fill that silence with what they learned," he said. 
 
He also gives the children small jobs to teach them responsibility.

"Denys brings the garbage pills out every Thursday and brings the garbage pails back in every Friday," he said. "I pay him $1 a week for that. Then Maryna wanted a job. She gets a small payment for putting the silverware away. They're very dutiful about it."

The family has also gotten assistance from state Sen. Will Haskell, D-Westport, who connected them quickly to obtaining health insurance when they first arrived in town.

"We're all sitting here watching what's happening in Eastern Europe and want to do whatever we can to lend a hand to those families who are struggling," said Haskell, whose district includes includes Redding, Ridgefield, Wilton, and parts of Bethel, Weston, Westport, and New Canaan. "Sometimes, constituents get stuck in this sort of hamster wheel where they can't get an answer. Bureaucracies can be impossible to navigate. What my team and I like to do is just pick up the phone and try to get them an answer, either the same day or as soon as possible. That's what we did for Nadiia and her family"

'Never lose your hope'

Shushura said her message to fellow Ukrainians in the U.S. is "Never lose your hope," and to accept help from others when offered. 

"I'm so grateful for all the help that American people give and keep giving to me and my family," she said. "They share with their kindness, they share with their time and they do it absolutely for free."

Giordano, who helped Syrian immigrants in Ridgefield several years go by providing rides for them, encourages helping others in need — and especially, when it comes to Ukraine.

"This is something you should not ignore," he said, choking back tears. "This is a crisis of such a huge magnitude. The atrocities are so incredible. Our government is helping out but we could also help out."

He said there are so many different organizations to contribute to that provide food or shelter, or humanitarian aid, raise funds for drones, communications, or weather gear to Ukraine.

"There's so much that people can do to be on the right side of history," he said.

Shushura said she's determined to build a successful career teaching music and support her family on her own.

"I know my possibilities and know who I am," she said.