In February, Charlotte, N.C., Local 379 member and recent Ukrainian immigrant Dmytro Hrikh, center, brought his wife and son to a meeting with organizer Doug McDaniel.

Ukrainian electrician Dmytro Hrikh and his family had tried to remain in their home country for as long as they could after Russian troops invaded in February 2022. But late last year, when it finally became almost impossible for them to stay, the members of Charlotte Local 379 helped the family settle into a new home in North Carolina.

“It’s amazing to hear some of their stories,” said Local 379 Business Manager Scott Thrower.

Born in Ukraine when it was still one of the republics that made up the Soviet Union, the 37-year-old Hrikh hailed from Horlivka in the country’s Donetsk region. Hrikh’s studies at Donetsk National Technical University focused on electrical machinery used for industrial installations.

After graduating, Hrikh had been working as an electrician and power engineer when Russia attacked and occupied Donetsk City in 2014. He then moved his family to Zaporizhzhia, where he and his father eventually started their own contracting company. Their firm worked on local construction projects ranging from grain elevators to supermarkets, with Dmytro serving as a foreman and supporting his growing family.

Unfortunately, Zaporizhzhia became a frequent target of Russian attacks after the 2022 invasion.

“We hoped to stay there,” said Hrikh’s wife, Kateryna. But by late last year, caring for two children — a teenage daughter and a newborn son — while also dealing with unpredictable power cuts during a Ukrainian winter “was really hard,” she said.

“We had never thought about leaving Ukraine,” Kateryna said. “We had good jobs. We could travel.”

They had visited the U.S. before, touring Los Angeles, Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon and seeing relatives in Florida and in Charlotte. When they arrived in North Carolina this time, though, their suitcases were stuffed with as much of their belongings as they could carry.

Once in Charlotte, they were soon struck by a major difference between their adopted land and their homeland. “In Ukraine, we had furnished apartments,” Kateryna said. “Here, we’ve had to buy everything.”

Although the members of their extended family helped financially as much as they could, finding a job for Dmytro was paramount. “We sent out so many job applications, sometimes 30 to 40 resumes a day,” she said. His employment outlook improved dramatically when he was put in touch with Local 379.

“We spent a whole day with them,” said Local 379 organizer Doug McDaniel, noting that the language barrier between them wasn’t too hard to breech; while Kateryna would usually translate what Dmytro said in Ukrainian, “he understands everything you say,” she said.

One thing that helped make Dmytro’s case for IBEW membership is that “blueprints are the same here” as they are in Ukraine, Kateryna said. “There are little nuances, but they’re really very common.”

There are some interesting differences between the two countries, though, she said. For instance: “In Ukraine, they never use conduit. They use plastic boxes as pipes.”

Fortunately, other electrical workers from Ukraine are among Local 379’s thousand-strong membership.

“We’re trying to keep [these members] working together. The ability to communicate can be a safety issue,” Thrower said.

As this article was being prepared, Dmytro was working with a signatory contractor on 2161 Hawkins, a 22-story, mixed-used residential/commercial building in Charlotte’s South End neighborhood. Thrower noted that the project has an IBEW connection: It’s managed by the National Real Estate Advisors, the organization that handles the many other such investments that help support the IBEW’s National Electrical Benefit Fund and National Electrical Annuity Plan.

Dmytro was recently upgraded from a construction wireman 4 to a construction electrician 2.

“He is on his way to being a journeyman wireman. He’s doing very well,” Thrower said.

And he is taking English classes two times a week. “He’s getting better at it,” McDaniel said.

Meanwhile, the entire Hrikh family is working through the naturalization process to become U.S. citizens. “We are together,” Kateryna said. “For us, it’s a great opportunity. This experience is amazing.

“When the IBEW answered, they said they would help with the work, and to tell the truth it was the most invaluable help,” she added. “Because without work, adaptation to a new country becomes survival. So, we don’t know what we would do without Local 379’s help. We are infinitely grateful to the IBEW.”