As Russia’s war in Ukraine wages on with devastating consequences, millions of Ukrainians have fled their home seeking safe haven abroad, including in the United States. Epicenter-NYC reporter Andrea Pineda-Salgado spoke with one of them, Yana Miroshnychenko, about her and her son’s long journey from Kyiv to Brooklyn.
The shock of war
Miroshnychenko, 34, had a good life in Ukraine’s capital. She was a television journalist and owned a video production company. Her husband, Igor Miroshnychenko, is a sports journalist-turned politician. They share a 5-year-old son, Markiyan. Like many Ukrainians, her life came crumbling down as Russian soldiers began to invade her city.
“One the first night of this war, we slept and we woke up because we heard explosions, we saw many military helicopters above our house. We couldn’t believe what happened. After this terrible situation, we saw the news and we found out Putin started the war,” she says.
Terrified of what was happening around them, the next day, Miroshnychenko, who is currently seven months pregnant, and her husband knew they needed to stock up on food and medicine. Miroshnychenko had a feeling that something bad was going to happen, and she packed an emergency kit filled with important documents, a Ukrainian flag and some clothes for her son. The family then went to get food and medicine, but they never ended up returning home.
“As my husband drove the car, we saw so many explosions above our house and we realized that we couldn’t come back to our house,” says Miroshnychenko. “My husband decided to drive me to the Romanian border.”
Miroshnychenko knew she couldn’t keep her unborn baby and her son safe if she stayed in Ukraine, but her husband wanted to stay in a show of support. They said their goodbyes, and Miroshnychenko and her son walked across the border to Romania. Her best friend, a Ukrainian citizen who has been living in New York City for more than a decade, told her to come to the U.S. Miroshnychenko, who had previously obtained tourist visas for her family, decided to find a way to get to NYC.
Miroshnychenko and her son stayed in Romania for three days while her friend helped her book tickets to New York. She found a flight from Milan, and they arrived in the same clothes they had on when they first left their home to find food.
Arriving in New York City
When Miroshnychenko arrived in NYC in March, her friend picked her up from the airport and took her and her son to her home in Brooklyn. Miroshnychenko would soon receive an overwhelming amount of donations from kind New Yorkers when her story was shared on a mom Facebook group.
As Miroshnychenko tells it, a friend of a friend of a friend posted her story, and soon enough hundreds of moms were donated clothing, toys and money.
“I was shocked,” Miroshnychenko says. “My story became like a virus. It is so amazing, I don’t have any words.”
Miroshnychenko was able to get in touch with a doctor and receive prenatal care for her baby boy who is due in June. She was also set up with an apartment provided by a kind couple who found her story on Facebook. Their Harlem apartment is unoccupied and Miroshnychenko will be able to move in later this week and can stay until November. However, the most meaningful donations she received were toys for her son, who will turn 6 in May. Back in Ukraine, her son has a big room filled with toys that he wasn’t able to take. Yet most of all, he misses his father.
“He always asks about his daddy. He wants to call him every time. And he asks me, ‘Will my daddy be alive?’ He always draws tanks and Ukrainian soldiers,” she says. “He asks everything about the war.”
While she worries about her husband who remains in Ukraine, Miroshnychenko says they talk almost every hour via Whatsapp. He went back to Kyiv where he sleeps in a basement bathroom. They don’t know when they will be reunited again.
“I don’t want to be a refugee”
While Miroshnychenko is grateful for all the help she has received, she hopes she can return to Ukraine soon.
“I really really want to go back because I miss my husband and miss my family. My parents live in Odesa, Ukraine now. I miss my home,” she says. Fortunately, her family in Odesa — which includes her mother and 90-year old grandmother — has remained safe, she said.
Miroshnychenko has six months left on her tourist visa, and while she doesn’t know when the war will end, she hopes that by the time it expires she can go back to Ukraine. With the delivery of her baby only weeks away, Miroshnychenko doesn’t know what she will do if the war continues and her visa expires.
“That’s my plan, to deliver my baby,” she says. “I hope I can come back to Ukraine as soon as possible because I don’t want to live here and apply for some documents to be a refugee, I don’t want to be a refugee here.”
Miroshnychenko doesn’t know what could’ve happened to her if had decided to return home from the store. As far as she knows, her home was destroyed and shelled by the Russian army and whatever remained was looted.
Even though she wants to go back, she believes her best option is to stay in New York for the time being. Some of the mothers in the Facebook group are planning a housewarming celebration for her later this month. She hopes other Ukrainians are as lucky as her.
How to continue helping Miroshnychenko and Ukraine:
Miroshnychenko will need more items as she delivers her baby such as baby clothes, bottles, diapers and postpartum clothing. Fill out the Google Form arranged by the Facebook group to coordinate the delivery of your donation.
You can also donate money to her via PayPal. She says she has received enough money to get her through the next few weeks, but after her housewarming party she will update her wishlist. Stay updated on Miroshnychenko via the Facebook group.
Many organizations are helping Ukraine. The nonprofit, Razom for Ukraine, supports the people of Ukraine in their quest for democracy, and has compiled a list of resources for people to consider. You can also donate to Razom for Ukraine’s emergency response fund.
You can also join a rally or event.
Check out Razom’s list of resources for other organizations where donations are needed, as well as information on how to educate yourself about the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Follow Razom updates on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.