NEW HAVEN — The Lutsiuk family sat under the shade of a pergola covered in grape vines behind St. Michael's Ukrainian Catholic Church Thursday afternoon.
Roman Lutsiuk and his wife, Tanya, smiled as they rested their hands on the shoulders of their two young daughters — the family had been apart for about eight months before being reunited in New Haven about a month ago.
The Lutsiuk family is from Lutsk, a city in the northwestern corner of Ukraine. In May 2014, Roman, now 38, joined the volunteer forces in Ukraine to fight against the separatists in the eastern part of the country. In July of that year, he was wounded in battle and lost one of his fingers and part of a hand.
His injuries did not deter him from returning to combat. On November 5, he was shot several times in his abdomen.
"He spent some time in a military hospital [in Ukraine]," said Father Iura Godenciuc, a pastor at St. Michael's. "But they really couldn't do much."
A group of Ukrainian doctors working in Philadelphia have been helping to bring wounded Ukrainian soldiers to America for medical treatment. They were able to get in touch with a doctor at Yale-New Haven Hospital, who agreed to take Roman as a patient.
Roman and Tanya arrived in New Haven on January 20. Since then, he has been monitored daily by doctors and his wife. Roman has to be connected to IV fluids for 15 hours a day.
He no longer has to live at the hospital full time. Godenciuc took the lead in arranging for Roman and Tanya to stay in a building next to the church, which the church also owns. The church converted the third floor of the building into an apartment for the couple.
Tanya cares for Roman, changing his IV and making sure he is always comfortable. The doctors at Yale-New Haven have been working on building Roman's strength and immune system with the goal of reconstructive surgery of his digestive system in October.
"When he came [to the U.S.], nobody had told the doctors [here] that he didn't have his stomach," Godenciuc said.
Roman has eight to nine hours a day to walk freely. His daughters, Alina , 15, and Anastasia, 7, arrived in Connecticut on July 15 and will leave on Aug. 19.
Godenciuc said he and some of his parishioners got in touch with U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal earlier this year to see if he could help them bring the girls to visit from Roman. Blumenthal wrote a letter to the U.S. embassy in Ukraine asking for their help in providing the girls with a one-month visa. Myron Melnyk, a member of St. Michael's who is fluent in Ukrainian, translated for the family.
"We thank you for your courage and for our strength," Blumenthal said as he looked at Roman.
Listening to Melnyk's translation, Roman smiled and looked at the ground before replying in Ukrainian.
"He's saying he's the one who should be thanking you," Melnyk said.