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Dance to fundraise for couple hoping to give their Ukrainian parents sanctuary in Cortez

Natalia and Todd Erlandson hope to provide sanctuary in Cortez for Natalia Erlandson's Ukrainian parents, Volodymyr and Luba Sugak. The couple, 71 and 72, are pictured here at a Christmas celebration. “They don’t look as happy now,” Erlandson said.
Four Corners Dance Society to host Saturday event at the Montezuma County Annex

A Saturday dance hosted by the Four Corners Dance Society will fundraise for Cortez woman Natalia Erlandson’s Ukrainian parents’ relocation to Cortez.

But, it’s going to be a long and arduous journey for them to get here.

Volodymyr Sugak, 71, and Luba Sugak, 72, fled their hometown of Kharkiv after heavy bombing from Russia about 30 miles to the north.

The couple had all of 10 minutes to pack what they could and run.

They took shelter for a week in an underground parking garage with a handful of other families to escape shelling. There was no heat. There was minimal water. They slept on the ground.

The horrific soundtrack of missiles and gunfire screamed in the background.

Meanwhile, Erlandson’s brother was in Kyiv, where he was woken in the middle of the night by explosions at the airport: his signal to move.

The Sugaks are now in western Ukraine with their son, who can’t escape because of martial law, Erlandson said.

What would have been a day trip for the Sugaks took four days with traffic and military checkpoints.

“They’re going to leave their son behind and hope that he will be OK,” Erlandson said.

Crossing the border could take up to 20 hours. Erlandson hopes her parents won’t run out of gas in the overflowing line of people waiting to cross into Poland or Romania, she said.

Erlandson’s communication with her parents has been limited by unreliable Internet access, but she could speak to her mother Tuesday.

“They’re very tired: emotionally, physically exhausted,” Erlandson said. “It will take them a long time to just process losing everything.”

Erlandson, registrar at Montezuma-Cortez High School, lived in Kharkiv until she was 19. She watches the familiar parks and schools she roamed as a child being reduced to bleak unfamiliarity on the news.

“It’s so far away from here that it’s all so hard to believe,” she said.

Natalia Erlandson and her husband, Todd Erlandson, plan to build Natalia’s parents a tiny house to help them start over after losing everything.

“I think it would just be a big weight off my shoulders to know that they are safe and here,” she said.

Todd Erlandson, a pastor at Grace Fellowship, set up a GoFundMe for Natalia’s parents.

“They’re coming here with the clothes on their back and a couple of extra pants,” he said.

The Erlandsons are not exactly sure how the Sugaks will make it to Cortez within the next few weeks, or if they will ever return to Kharkiv.

They also don’t know if the Sugaks’ apartment still exists in the war-laden city.

Romania may be an easier gateway with less border congestion than Poland, Todd Erlandson said.

Natalia Erlandson is doing “better” with the hope of her parents’ pending arrival, Todd Erlandson said.

But that wasn’t the case as the news of Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine and March 2 landing in Kharkiv broke.

“She was just out of her mind,” he said.

The Erlandsons met in Ukraine, where Todd Erlandson worked as a missionary for six years.

Dance organizer Jan Heyl, treasurer of the Four Corners Dance Society, had the idea for the event, which will be held Saturday night at the Montezuma County Annex.

The Sugaks have visited Cortez several times.

“Her (Erlandson’s) parents have been here, and we’ve danced with them,” she said. “It just seemed like the right thing to do.”

There’s no need to be an expert dancer, she said. The group is accommodating to different styles of dance and music.

Tickets are $10 for a 6:30 p.m. predance lesson, and the main dance at 7:30 p.m. is $15. Tickets for members of the dance society are $10.

Apart from event expenses, all dance proceeds will go to the Sugaks.

To contact the Erlandson’s, email sugakukrainerefugee@gmail.com.

“Prayers are appreciated,” Natalia Erlandson said. “Any support is very welcome.”