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'We wouldn't be here': Afghan family grateful to call Tampa Bay area home 1 year after Taliban takeover

The Shayans remember August 15, 2021, like it was yesterday. They were still in Afghanistan prepared to fight the Taliban.

RIVERVIEW, Fla. — August 15, 2021, will forever be engrained in every Afghan's life.

One year later, the Taliban declared the day a national holiday after re-claiming power there. It's a day marked by trauma, anger and fear for those who call the country home.    

"We call this day the black day. The 15th of Aug. is the black day for the people of Afghanistan," Zainab Shayan said.

She and her husband remember it like it was yesterday. They were still in the country, prepared to fight the Taliban.

"I get a call from my commander and he told me there's nothing to fight with them. Just save your life," Ruhullah Shayan said.

Both he and his wife served in the Afghan army and had contact with top U.S. officials. They knew they would be killed and had to take their two kids out of the country.

"It is clear, if we were now in Afghanistan, me and my husband would not be alive. My daughter and my son will be without us, alone, no education, no family, not anything. I don't want to think about those days," Zainab said.

Like thousands of other Afghans, the family rushed to the airport in Kabul, trying to catch a flight out. They documented each moment in case they were killed.

"We already was so scared and afraid. We hid our kids to just save their life," Ruhullah said.

After close encounters with death, the family was finally able to catch a flight and land in the U.S.

"I just shouted and said 'yes, there is a U.S. soldier and now we are safe,'" Zainab said.

In December 2021, the family finally found their new home in the Tampa Bay area. A home in Riverview is their peace and safe haven. The host family that helped them get here is a photograph on the wall and Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services is helping them all adapt.

"We feel the peace. We want to use the peace and we wish this for our country too," Ruhullah said.

As they look back at their memories, the Shayan's know they're blessed to both be working and have their kids in school. Ruhullah wants to serve again, but this time in the U.S. military.

"The Taliban, they are terrorists. Everywhere we were in Afghanistan we didn't know what would happen to us," Ruhullah said. 

They risked their lives to get their family to safety. With thousands still in the country suffering, including the family they left behind, they have hope that one day, things will get better.

"Day by day our people, they are dying. The Taliban are killing our people. Some of them are just dying because they don't have any food. My heart feels the pain of my people and I cannot do anything. I just hope that the peace comes again in my country. It is my big wish for my country," Zainab said. 

The Shayans aren't the only family from Afghanistan being helped by Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services. There are several dozen more from the country and now Ukrainians are coming to the Tampa Bay region for assistance. If you'd like to help them, you can here.    

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