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Ukrainian refugees settle with family friends in East Texas

The Zapolskyys evacuated their loved ones from Ukraine to their home in Bullard.

BULLARD, Texas — The Zapolskyys and the Vinniks gathered around the dining room table for a meal they didn’t know they’d be able to have.

After fleeing for 11 days from Russian soldiers' attacks, the close family friends are safe together in Bullard.

Seventeen-year-old Gleb Vinnick said his mom Helen Vinnik woke him up around 6 a.m. on the first day of war.

"It's happening," she said. "Pack your stuff. We're leaving."

Men aged 18 to 60 could be drafted and aren’t allowed to leave Ukraine.

If Gleb was born one month earlier, he said he'd still be in Ukraine on the frontlines with his dad Andrew.

Gleb's sister Luba and his mom both feel proud of him and concerned for his safety.

They grabbed their necessities and Andrew escorted them to the border. On the way, they picked up Tamara, the Zapolskyys' 85-year-old grandmother.

Tamara knew war began as she watched a missile blast past her window. The airwave pushed her body back before landing on the home next door.

Tamara said, “People had such a huge fear. They were running away with small kids. They didn't even have chance to change their clothes and it was winter time.”

During the group’s 11-day journey, they watched chaos turn strangers into family. People shared blankets in the bitter cold, food and motivation to push through.

On March 7, Tamara boarded her flight bound for Dallas, Texas. As the plane took off, relief washed over her. She was finally free.

“I was crying. I was crying because of joy, what I had in my heart, and I was crying. Because I knew I'm coming to my family to my kids,” said Tamara.

Back in January with war tensions rising, Olga told us she called her grandma at 8 a.m. every day.

Olga said, “We are trying to tell each other as much as possible 'I love you' because we don't know if I'll be able to call and talk with her one more time.”

In her Bullard home, they sat together hand in hand.

Olga said, “I feel like my heart just overwhelmed with joy, happiness and gratitude.”

The Zapolskyys and the Vinniks reunited just in time for young Anya Zapolska's 12th birthday wish to come true.

"All I really wanted for my birthday was for them to come here safely,” said Anya.

Her last wish is for war to be over.

RELATED: East Texas man helps lead fundraising effort for Ukrainian defenses

RELATED: City of Tyler provides aid to Sister City helping Ukrainian refugees

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