Days before Russia invaded Ukraine, Yaroslava Dunn urged her parents to leave their home in Kyiv.
But they stayed. When the invasion began on Feb. 24, they remained in their home. But by March 2, the St. Charles woman’s parents were asking for help to flee.
A nuclear physicist, Dunn’s 78-year-old father became increasingly concerned about the bombing, especially the vacuum bombs that were being used.
“This is the first time I saw him being really scared,” said the 47-year-old daughter who immigrated to the United States when she was 24. “He said that once the Russians unleash those weapons, there is no chance for anybody to survive.”
Dunn and her sister, Natasha Stevens, boarded a plane at O’Hare and headed to Warsaw on March 5. Her parents, Iurii Siedov and Nataliia Sukhodolska, left their home the following day. The two women were reunited with their parents in Warsaw nine days after boarding their flight to Poland.
“I’m very grateful for my daughters who dropped everything and came here to rescue us,” Siedov said by phone Monday through Dunn.
He and his wife fled their home with the clothes on their back, their two dogs and a few key possessions like their cellphones and chargers.
Though his home was not bombed, he could hear the planes flying overhead and saw the sky light up from the bombing. They also saw the fires from shelling in Irpin and Bucha, two nearby towns that were destroyed, Dunn said.
“I don’t wish anyone to go through this experience,” Siedov said of fleeing his homeland. He was born in Russia but grew up in Ukraine. “It’s pure horror. It’s a crisis that no one should have to go through.”
Dunn’s parents first attempted to leave Kyiv via train, but as Siedov put it, it was like “Armageddon” at the train station.
“There were so many people boarding the train,” Siedov told his daughter, adding they had no chance of getting on a train.
With the help of a Christian group, the couple made their way to Lviv on a minibus. They traveled with another couple whose apartment was bombed in Sumy.
“They were literally in their bathrobes and slippers,” Dunn’s father told her.
When Dunn’s parents arrived in Lviv, her mother realized that in their rush to flee she had grabbed the wrong documents. A cousin in Kyiv was able to retrieve the needed passports and send them via courier.
The couple then traveled by bus to Warsaw to reunite with their daughters. The cousin that retrieved the couple’s passports had to stay behind as men between the ages of 18 and 60 cannot leave Ukraine.
Dunn’s mother had a visa that allowed her entry to the U.S. and was able to fly to the states with her two dogs and Stevens. She is staying at Stevens’ home in Wisconsin while her husband remains in Warsaw, working with Dunn to secure his own visa. His had lapsed just before the pandemic and he had not been able to renew it.
They are scheduled to meet with embassy officials on Friday.
“It’s been a very difficult process,” Dunn said Monday. “There is no special refugee status for citizens crossing Ukraine.”
In the initial days after her parents arrived in Poland, Dunn said, she and her sister spent hours just trying to get through to the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw by phone. It took nearly four hours each of the three times they called.
Most of the more than 3 million refugees who have left Ukraine are now in Poland. Dunn noted the U.S. Embassy has limited hours and the process to obtain a visa is difficult to navigate.
She has written to President Joe Biden, U.S. Sens. Richard Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and others urging the United States to aid those fleeing the war in Ukraine.
“The purpose of this letter is to urge you and the Congress of the United States to finally do the right thing and grant refugee status to the Ukrainian citizens,” Dunn wrote in a March 19 letter to Biden. “Ukrainian citizens who are displaced by war need an easier path for entering the United States.”
She said her experience with her father pales in comparison to Ukrainians who have fled their homeland but have no one to help them navigate a path to entry.
“I speak five languages, have a U.S. passport, means to support myself while traveling and a network of friends back home in the U.S.,” she wrote. “I can only imagine the kind of unbearable burden it is to deal with all of this for an ordinary Ukrainian family with young kids, elderly parents, pets, etc. who escaped with only the clothes on their back, have nothing, who do not speak English and who have no immediate emotional and financial support system from their relatives and friends. My heart breaks for them.”
The U.S. has allocated $13.6 billion in humanitarian, military and economic support for Ukraine. The Biden administration is considering ways to “fast track” bringing Ukrainian refugees to the U.S., according to an ABC News report. Ukrainians already in the United States by March 1 have been granted temporary protected status.
ABC News also reported embassies are also working to expedite visas for immediate family members of U.S. citizens, including parents, spouses and unmarried children under 21.
Dunn said she will continue to work to help her father and a family friend who traveled with her parents to Poland.
She and her father said they are grateful for the many volunteers and friends who have helped them. Siedov said he remains hopeful he will be able to return to his homeland once the fighting stops.
“Of course, I’m hoping to be back,” said Siedov, who still works at the University of Kyiv. “I know that they’re waiting for me back at work.”
Source: The Daily Chronicle