Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has upended lives and forced nearly 8 million people to flee the country, including an 18-year-old man from eastern Ukraine named Alex Bogancha, whose family saved a young girl from the Nazis during World War II. LA Times lifestyle reporter Kailyn Brown wrote about how his family’s legacy provided an escape from war and a new home in the U.S. She joined Lisa McRee on “LA Times Today.”

In 1941, a 14-year-old girl named Zhanna Arshanskaya Dawson escaped the Nazis after they rounded up all the Jews in her small Ukrainian town. She turned to her classmate’s family for help.

“She fled and went to the home of one of her classmates. So it’s this young boy, Nicolai Bogancha, who she actually had a crush on, and they had a really good relationship. And his family took her in. And later her sister, who was two years younger, she also escaped. ... So this family took both of them and basically hid them from the Nazis during that time, helped them get along on their journey,” Brown explained.

Dawson ended up in the U.S. and created a life and a family. Now, in 2022, the descendants of the Bogancha family, including 18-year-old Alex Bogancha, found themselves in Russia’s warpath.

“They fled to Austria, the entire family. But [Alex Bogancha] was a freshman in college. He was going to Kharkiv National University, studying business administration. His family really values education, and the war, they thought it wouldn’t last as long as it has,” Brown said.

One day, the Boganchas received a WhatsApp message from a woman in the United States offering help. Tarzana resident Marina Orlovetsky had learned about Dawson and the Boganchas from a book by Dawson’s son, Greg. Brown explained how Orlovetsky connected the Boganchas and Dawson’s descendants. 

“Marina … read this book and was really inspired. She also grew up in Kharkiv, so she befriended Zhanna after finding her online ... Marina one day was scrolling through Facebook and saw a post that Andrii Bogancha, Alex’s father, had posted and the name stood out to her. So she reached out to him,” Brown shared.

With the help of a local organization, Greg Dawson and Orlovetsky arranged for Alex Bogancha to come to California. Alex is now studying at Santa Monica College. Sadly, Brown said, he never got to meet Dawson.

“She died just days, literally days, before he arrived. It’s an interesting story about how everything came together. Zhanna actually had dementia, so she wouldn’t have been able to put everything together about the war or him coming. But Greg Dawson knows that she would have been really happy.”

The rest of the Bogancha family is moving to LA in June.

Watch the full interview above.

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