PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WMBB) — Millions of Ukrainians have fled their country, searching for shelter abroad. Some have now found homes in Bay County.
33-year-old Mykola Tulupov, his wife and four–year–old son arrived in the Panhandle this fall after trying to leave Ukraine for months.
Since September, the Tulupov’s have been recreating their lives in Panama City Beach. Less than a year ago, they were happily living in Mariupol. But that changed in the blink of an eye.
“One day in the morning, I wake up, I take a cigarette, take a coffee cup, I have my coffee cup,” Tulupov said. “I take, uh, I go outside on my porch. I have a nice house and just rocket starts, you know, from the sky, falling.”
Tulupov said his family hid in their basement for two months. Most of the homes throughout the city were destroyed by Russian bombs.
“75% of them. No roof, no wall,” Tulupov said. “You know, my house totally like a tin can on a shooting range, you know, completely penetrated.”
He said thirty people hunkered down in his basement. When one elderly woman began coughing one day, everyone in the shelter became ill.
“It’s caused real havoc real mass destruction,” Tulupov said. “They bombing like all the city. And I you know, I don’t know how we are alive.”
Tulupov said when he walked around outside, lawns were littered with crosses where bodies have been buried. Others didn’t get that respect. Tulupov said some bodies decayed in the streets.
“Dogs start eating these people,” Tulupov said.
Eventually, he and his family decided to leave, but they were initially turned away from Hungary. That meant he had to travel back east, through Russian-controlled land before going north toward Lithuania.
He said it was a 46-hour non-stop drive. Tulupov has no plans to return home.
“It still will be no any normal life for decades really for decades,” Tulupov said.
A Bay County family is helping the Tulupov’s get back on their feet.
“I have never, ever had to worry about a bomb landing in my neighborhood,” Charles Walthour said. “I can’t imagine what these people have gone through.”
The Walthour’s created a GoFundMe to bring more families to the Panhandle.
“We have another family in route and we just got approved for the third family,” Walthour said.
People can donate through GoFundMe.