The Makhov family had already been planning an extended trip to Austin late this summer—the Russian invasion on Ukraine pushed the voyage on them much sooner than expected.
Vitaly and Olha Makhov, a Ukrainian couple from Kyiv-adjacent city Irpin, made it to Austin alongside their three daughters on March 29. The family, who had been scrambling to find safety since Feb. 12, arrived to a surprising $35,000 raised via GoFundMe and big support from the community.
Austonia visited with Vitaly, Olha and their 10-month old daughter Olivia to talk about their journey at their temporary home, while they stay with friend and local entrepreneur Dean Dzurilla in South Austin.
Dzurilla first met the family when they visited Austin in 2019--he took them trick-or-treating for the first time. (Dean Dzurilla)
“It's such a huge support that I don't know how to react, because to say that we are grateful is to say nothing—it's unprecedented and such huge love from people,” Vitaly said. “Sometimes I cannot believe that it's happening, that we are here safe, we are not in the shelter, we’re all alive, and we are getting such big support from people around us, so it's amazing.”
The family had been on high alert for weeks leading up to the invasion and originally fled the city when they heard news that attacks were scheduled on Feb. 16, but returned home in the evening of Feb. 23 when they didn’t happen.
Early the next morning, Vitaly would wake to sounds of explosions, hurriedly pack a single suitcase between the five of them and head for Poland. The family bounced from Poland to France, where Vitaly had his cell phone stolen, to San Francisco and finally to Austin. Vitaly said he’s been told half of their home city has been destroyed.
People cleaning up #Irpin after #Russians.
This is how life wins over death. Hope over despair.
We love our home so much. We defend it. We live here.#StandWithUkrainepic.twitter.com/e0mJOLgZDn
— Kira Rudik (@kiraincongress) April 6, 2022
“There were everyday fights in our area… that's something I don't want my family to see. I don't want my kids to have some psychological trauma when they can see this evil, when they see bombs, when they see all the suffering people have,” Vitaly said. “The first month was really hard—the kids were crying about missing home. We don't know if home still exists.”
They plan to move into a nearby neighbor’s guest house for now, buy a car, try to extend their tourist visas to a full year and go from there. In the week they have been in town, the pair said they had attended a backyard barbecue, been invited to swim in neighbors’ pools and had been treated like family by people they had just met.
“There's days we always had (tears) in our eyes because of what people did for us,” Olha said, bouncing baby Olivia in her lap. “We were shocked and (crying) and wow. Why me? Why my family?”
Vitaly said Dzurilla's daughter Juliette (left) and his 11-year-old daughter Nika (right) were fast friends. (Dean Dzurilla)
Vitaly said he wants to send as much help back home as he can. He said they have already sent donations to the Ukrainian military and hope to spread the word about the crimes that are happening in his home country.
“In my opinion, if you look globally at this, what is happening in Ukraine is a genocide of Ukrainians,” Vitaly said. “Buildings are something that can be rebuilt. But people, women, men who were just killed, civilian people, is something that we cannot rebuild. Life is gone and this is a terrible thing.”
Overwhelmed by support from Austinites, Vitaly said the best thing Americans can do to help is support Ukrainian companies, hire Ukrainian workers, call on your representatives to support Ukraine and support further sanctions on Russia.
“It's important to push the government, it’s important to push senators to give more support, because Ukrainian people have strong spirit, but they don’t have the means to protect our homes,” Vitaly said. “We are a very peaceful nation but when in any form, some murder is coming, you don’t have any other option than to protect your family.”
The Makhov family plans to return to Ukraine once it is safe again–whether that is a year or more, they don’t know, but the family misses home.
“It's something like light and darkness. We are protecting the freedom of people and the ability for people to choose their future,” Vitaly said. “I don’t want my kids to be slaves like Russians, so we choose freedom and we are protecting this freedom."
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By Jonathan Lee
The Planning Commission was split Tuesday on whether to help save an eclectic lakefront estate from demolition by zoning it historic amid concerns over tax breaks and the likelihood that a previous owner participated in segregation as a business owner.
The property in question, known as the Delisle House, is located at 2002 Scenic Drive in Tarrytown. The main house, with Spanish and Modern influences, was built in 1923 by Raymond Delisle, an optician. A Gothic Revival accessory apartment was built in 1946. The current owner applied to demolish the structures in order to build a new home.'
Historic preservationists, for their part, overwhelmingly support historic zoning, which would preserve the buildings in perpetuity. The Historic Landmark Commission unanimously voted to initiate historic zoning in July, citing architectural significance, landscape features and association to historic figures. City staffers recommend historic zoning, calling both structures one-of-a-kind examples of vernacular architecture.
Tarrytown neighbors have also banded together to stop the demolition. Many have written letters, and a few spoke at the meeting. “How could anyone buy this property with the intent of destroying it?” Ila Falvey said. “I think it’s an architectural treasure.”
Michael Whellan, an attorney representing the property owner, said that the claims made by preservationists are shaky. The buildings are run down, he said, and have had substantial renovations. A structural engineer hired by the owner said any attempt at preservation would involve tearing down and rebuilding – an undertaking Whellan said would likely cost millions.
Whellan also argued that any historical significance derived from the property’s association with Delisle and longtime owner C.H. Slator is dubious. “These men are not noted for any civic, philanthropic or historic impact,” he said.
What’s more, according to Whellan, Slator likely participated in segregation as the owner of the Tavern on North Lamar Boulevard between 1953 and 1960.
A city staffer, however, said she found no evidence to support the claim. “We would never landmark a property where a segregationist lived, or there was a racist person,” Kimberly Collins with the Historic Preservation Office said.
Commissioner Awais Azhar couldn’t support historic zoning in part due to lingering uncertainty about Slator. “Focusing on that factor is not here to disparage an individual or family. It is not about playing the race card. This is an important assertion for us to consider as Planning commissioners,” Azhar said.
Commissioner Carmen Llanes Pulido said that allegations of racism should come as no surprise. “We’re talking about white male property owners in the 1950s, in Austin, on the west side – and of course they were racist,” she said. But she argued that allowing the house to be demolished based on these grounds does nothing to help people of color who have been harmed by racism and segregation.
The question of tax breaks was also controversial. Michael Gaudini, representing the property owner, said that the tax breaks associated with historic zoning would exacerbate inequality by shifting property tax burdens to less affluent communities. City staffers estimate that the property, appraised at $3.5 million, would get either a $8,500 or $16,107 property tax break annually, depending on whether a homestead exemption is applied.
Commissioner Grayson Cox preferred the commission focus not on tax breaks but on whether the structures merit preservation. “To me, nothing in the historic preservation criteria lists, is this person deserving of a tax break or not?”
Azhar, on the other hand, said he plans to propose a code amendment getting rid of city property tax breaks for historic properties.
The commission fell one vote short of recommending historic zoning, with six commissioners in support and three opposed. Azhar and commissioners Claire Hempel and Greg Anderson voted against.
The odds of City Council zoning over an owner’s wishes are slim. Nine out of 11 members must vote in favor, and there have only been a handful of such cases over the past several decades.
What's new in Austin food & drink this week:
- Nau's Enfield Drug closing after losing their lease. Did McGuire Moorman Lambert buy the building, with its vintage soda fountain?
- Nixta Taqueria Chef Edgar Rico named to Time Magazine's Time 100 Next influencer list, after winning a James Beard Award earlier this year.
- Question: From what BBQ joint did pescatarian Harry Styles order food this week?
- Austin Motel is opening the pool and pool bar Wednesday nights in October for Freaky Floats.
- Vincent's on the Lake closing due to "economic conditions and low water levels [at Lake Travis]."
- Cenote has closed its Windsor Park location. The East Cesar Chavez location remains open.
- The Steeping Room on N. Lamar has closed.
- Local startup It's Skinnyscored new financing for its gluten-free pasta business.
- P. Terry's opened a new location in Kyle, at 18940 IH-35.