Last spring, a Ukrainian woman's post in a Facebook group caught Grace Cohen's eye.
Cohen, a 28-year-old graphic designer in the St. Louis area, had been following the news about the war in Ukraine, researching ways she might be able to help. She learned that Americans could sponsor someone from Ukraine if they agreed to house and support the individual for two years.
Soon after, Cohen saw a Facebook post from Anastasia Kabanchuk, a 24-year-old English translator whose parents sent her to Poland a few weeks after Russia attacked Ukraine.
"I can't stay here in Poland for long, so right now I'm looking for a sponsor to help me move to the USA," she wrote.
Cohen discussed the idea with her fiance. He was on board. So, she commented on Kabanchuk's post: "Hey, I'm in St. Louis. Message me if you're interested in staying with me."
The two women talked via a video call the next day. By the end of the conversation, they seemed like a good match for the sponsor program.
Cohen's relatives and friends had mixed responses to the idea that a stranger from across the world would move into her home. Half of them thought it was crazy; the others thought it was incredibly kind.
Just before Russia invaded last year, Kabanchuk's parents told her she needed to go stay with their friends in Poland. She refused to leave her parents behind. But when the Russians targeted nuclear power plants in March, her mother said Anastasia was leaving for Warsaw the next day. They found a bus ticket, and it was time to say goodbye.
"Do not worry. Do not cry," her mother said to her. Her mom said the separation would likely just last a week; her father said he wanted her to be safe. Kabanchuk tried her best not to cry.
It took 12 hours to get to the Polish border, then another 14 hours to cross it -- her bus was just one of dozens, all filled with Ukrainians leaving. Since the Russian invasion began, more than 12 million Ukrainians have fled their homes, including 5 million who have left the country.
Once she was in Poland, Kabanchuk's family friends picked her up and drove her to their home a few hours away. Her weeklong stay ended up lasting five months.
Cohen, an only child like Kabanchuk, grew up in Missouri. When she was in elementary school, she remembers her mom, Lori, passing a homeless person on a street corner while driving home. As soon as they arrived home, her mother made a sandwich, put together a boxed meal and drove back to the man to give it to him.
"It made such a big impression on me," Cohen said. "She was the kindest, most generous person I've ever met."
Her mother was diagnosed with melanoma and died when Cohen was 17.
Her father, Victor, worked as a real estate agent and landlord. He would often go out of his way to try to find shelter for someone in need. His grandparents had fled from Poland before World War II.
He was fighting leukemia when he caught COVID-19 two years ago.
He didn't survive the virus.
"I miss them so much every day," Cohen said.
Losing both her parents made her realize how much it had meant to grow up in a loving and safe environment. She knows her parents would have supported her decision to sponsor a person displaced by war.
"I often imagine what it would've been like to be a Jew during World War II, and how I would've hoped someone would be generous enough to shelter or hide me," she said.
Her decision to take in Kabanchuk felt like a way to honor her parents.
After the decision was made, Cohen and Kabanchuk filled out the paperwork online. It was quickly approved, and Kabanchuk arrived in St. Louis on July 14. As soon as Kabanchuk unpacked her suitcase, Cohen took her to her favorite bar to meet a friend. Kabanchuk was excited to discover what her life in St. Louis might be like, but also a bit scared.
Meeting Cohen and her friend made her feel less lonely.
Kabanchuk says she was fortunate to have her application for a work permit approved quickly. She constantly worries about her parents in Ukraine, as power outages can last for hours and it takes longer to receive a response to her messages. Nonetheless, she recently got her driver's license and landed a job as an administrative assistant. Even though Cohen has told her she is welcome to stay as long as she needs, Kabanchuk would like to be able to get her own apartment eventually.
She says that even when she does move out, she and Cohen will stay close and see one another regularly. Her dream is to be able to take Cohen to her home in Ukraine -- to meet her parents, to experience their culture and hospitality.
She talks about that day longingly.
A day when families can be reunited.
A day when the war is over.