Couple settles in Del Mar after fleeing Ukraine

John Uke and his girlfriend Dana.
(Courtesy of Diane Uke)

After growing up in Del Mar and spending some time in San Francisco, John Uke moved to Ukraine to build a tech company.

“If I can go to Ukraine and hire and work with people like this for a fraction of the price of America, that seems like a good business model and an interesting adventure,” said Uke, who attended Del Mar Heights, Earl Warren and graduated from Torrey Pines High School.

There he met Dana in an art gallery.

“It was kind of like a spark from the first moment,” said Dana, who was born in Ukraine and had been living in Kyiv pursuing studies in business. She requested that her last name be withheld because of her involvement with the military in Ukraine.

“I remember after our first date, I was going to call my mom to tell her I think I met the person I’m going to marry,” John said.

After Russia invaded about six months ago, they had to flee the country. Over the next month they slept in “probably 20 different beds over one month,” before finally settling in Del Mar.

There have been more than 10,000 civilian deaths or injuries across Ukraine as of July 3, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Nearly 4,900 people were documented as killed, including 335 children.

“The first two months were very crazy, we were moving all around the world,” Dana said.

She continued, “I was very careful with people here because I did not know what to expect, but everyone’s super friendly and open and offer help.”

John added that he appreciated “the stability” of returning to his home city.

Dana said she served in the Ukrainian military in a position similar to a paramedic, and that many of her friends are still serving. She has a temporary status in the U.S. and continues to monitor how events are unfolding in Ukraine.

“We don’t know if we’re going to settle in here or for how long, when the war will finish,” Dana said. “So I cannot actually make any long-term plan because everything’s uncertain.”

John and Dana have been working on a product John came up with called Success Cards, which are tarot-style decks of cards that provide tips and advice on growing a business.

And on the continuing military conflict in Ukraine, John said, “I think it’s really important that people continue to support or donate or do whatever they can to help.”