For their own safety, he had to let them go. That much was clear.
But still, Ivan Honchar couldn't help feeling torn over the decision.
"It was really, really hard because I thought maybe I have seen them for the last time," he said, recalling the day last year that he said goodbye to his wife and baby girl at the Ukraine-Poland border.
His daughter, Liliana, was only 4½ months old at the time.
So for her sake especially, his wife, Marta, needed to get her out of the country, Honchar said.
"As a father I just felt so helpless," he said.
Over a year since the Russian invasion forced them to split up, however, Honchar and his family are now reunited.
The trio have found refuge in Tulsa, where Honchar started a new job a few weeks ago.
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The 36-year-old Ukrainian's opportunity was made possible through the inTulsa Visa Network, a program that recruits immigrants to help fill technology jobs with Tulsa-area companies.
Part of inTulsa, a nonprofit tech employment organization formed in 2021 in partnership with the George Kaiser Family Foundation, the program so far has approved 17 Ukrainians to participate, nine of whom have been hired so far by Tulsa-area companies.
Organizers believe the initiative, which received some national exposure recently in the Wall Street Journal, is the first of its kind to help sponsor and refer immigrants to employers under the federal Uniting for Ukraine program.
Sally Hubbert, director of talent for inTulsa, said the organization saw it as a chance to serve Tulsa employers while helping Ukrainians find safe haven from the war.
"We have an existing talent matchmaking structure that connects companies with the talent they need, and so we just saw this as an opportunity to support those folks who had been forced out of their homes and their jobs and their lives," she said.
Also, she added, "Tulsa is aiming to be one of the most welcoming cities in the U.S. for immigrants, and we thought this could be a way for us to help support that goal, as well."
Hubbert said the program targets senior level software engineers and technologists, who are in big demand by Tulsa-area companies. Honchar was hired by Tulsa firm Momentum3, where he is working as a software developer.
Introduced last year by the Biden administration, Uniting for Ukraine allows Ukrainians, if they have Americans to sponsor them, to live and work in the U.S. for two years, bypassing many immigration restrictions.
The inTulsa program satisfies the sponsorship requirement. Program lead Stan Khrapak serves as the sponsor for participants, with the financial backing of the Tulsa Community Foundation.
Of the 17 Ukrainians accepted so far, 12 are now in Tulsa, officials said.
Among them, they've brought eight additional people, including spouses, partners and children.
It was still dark when the first warning sirens began to sound.
But whether it was that or his wife that woke him up, Honchar can't be sure.
"I just remember her saying, 'It's started,'" he said.
In the days leading up to the Russian invasion in February 2022, the couple — who shared an apartment in Dubno, Ukraine, with their daughter — had looked around for possible shelters or safe place options in their neighborhood.
But while an attack had been anticipated, now that it was actually underway, it was hard to believe it was real, Honchar said.
"A lot of people were sure it wouldn't happen," he said, adding that it defied "common sense."
The explosions that followed those first sirens, though, were as real as it gets.
And as Russian airstrikes targeted Dubno's airport and power plants, another reality quickly sank in for the Honchars: They had a baby to care for.
How could they manage that in a potential war zone?
With the explosions coming closer — and facing the loss of power and other necessities — the couple fled to a neighboring town and the home of Marta's parents.
Deciding it was best to get Liliana out of the country, from there Honchar escorted his wife and daughter to the border, where they went on through Poland to France.
After several months, Honchar was able to get permission to join them.
He said it was in France, purely by "accident," that he ran across information online about the Tulsa program.
He reached out and began the process.
"It happened really quick," Honchar said. "I couldn't believe it. We first connected on Oct. 15. On Dec. 29 we arrived in Tulsa."
Thriving in Tulsa
Hubbert said candidates for the program first go through an application process and a committee review.
Once applicants are accepted as official members of the inTulsa Visa Network, the program undertakes "all avenues to help connect them to a job that will allow them to live and thrive in Tulsa," Hubbert said.
Along with relocation and housing support, available assistance includes almost everything they need to settle in and adjust to their new community, she added.
"We connect them to existing resources, English language training if needed, transportation support, technology access, and additional community programs."
Under Uniting for Ukraine, the newcomers are limited to two years in the U.S. But inTulsa is working with lawyers to help explore legal options for staying permanently.
Honchar said he and his wife don't necessarily need a permanent stay.
Eventually, they would like to go back to their homeland, where they have loved ones.
But with no end in sight to the war, there's no way to know when or if that will be possible.
So for now, they're just thankful to have a place to call home, he said.
While still new to them, "what we have seen here in Tulsa, we are happy with — the environment, the people, especially the people," Honchar said. "They're awesome. Everyone's ready to help, to provide any assistance."
The family is also enjoying Tulsa's parks and other amenities, he said.
When they arrived, Liliana was just learning to walk, Honchar said.
One of the family's favorite outings, Tulsa's Gathering Place park, allows her to make the most of her growing mobility.
"We take her there for the first time in February," he said. "She loves it. She has such a smile on her face."
Being able to watch their daughter play in a safe place has been a blessing, Honchar said.
"We are very grateful," he said.