North Carolina woman details journey to rescuing family from Ukraine
Olya Lebedyeva fled Ukraine with her mother back in 1998.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Ukrainians living in the Carolinas have had to watch the brutal attack on their home country from thousands of miles away.
The war prompted one woman to leave her home in Lake Wylie to travel to Ukraine, get her family members out of their war-torn city, and bring them to the U.S.
Olya Lebedyeva fled Ukraine with her mother back in 1998. She knows firsthand what it’s like to come to the United States with virtually nothing.
“It was only two of us, two suitcases and $700 dollars that we had,” Lebedyeva said.
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Two decades later, now settled into life in Lake Wylie, her home country is under attack.
“I actually woke up in panic,” she said. “I remember picking up the phone and calling my mom who lives in Chicago, and I remember just screaming in the phone telling her the war started. I was so distraught. We have all these distant relatives there and my mom’s mom who’s 85 years old and who is not self-sufficient.”
She says the decision to rescue her grandmother was a quick one.
“I decided in less than 24 hours,” she said. “I did not tell my family until I logistically planned the trip. I figured it out. What would be the best way for me to get to Ukraine knowing that American citizens are not allowed to Ukraine?”
Olya set out on a grueling journey at the end of March, staying in a refugee camp in Poland and then hiking for miles before finally crossing the border and finding her grandmother.
“The sirens go off and we have to hide for four hours in one of the basements and the panic starts because everybody thinks that the bombing is happening next to their house,” she said. “So that’s the worst. You’re in a close little space, everybody panicking. Don’t panic, we’re all here together.”
They made it out alive and Olya also convinced her cousin Alla and her 7-year-old son Zhenya to join them.
It meant leaving Alla’s husband behind, who is in the Ukrainian military.
“We took them in and we provide them room and board and we help them out as much as we can,” she said.
That help is critical because Alla has no way to work in the U.S. She’s still waiting on work authorization and right now she has no driver’s license, social security card, or any other legal documents.
Alla’s son Zhenya was able to enroll in school. He says his favorite part of school is the school bus.
Life looks very different for all of them, but they are grateful to be together.
“Grandma was very happy that I came in and she packed quickly and we left,” Lebedyeva said.
They are hopeful.
“I envision the war ending soon, and I envision the cities rebuilding themselves,” she said.
Olya just got approved to sponsor seven more people, including three children under 10 years old who she will also work to get into daycare and school.
She says her only concern is they only have one car for all of the people who will be staying with her.
Right now, there are thousands of people needing sponsors to be able to enter the United States.
For more information on how you can get involved, you can contact Tea Hoffmann at email@example.com
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