Escaping UkraineJune 24, 2022
One 1199 member’s family describes what it feels like to flee for their lives.
Hanna Duda has been an 1199 homecare worker with the Personal Touch agency for 22 years, since she first arrived in New York from Ukraine. She became a US citizen as soon as she could and quickly applied for family-sponsored visas for her daughters, Liliya Kupchyshyna and Halyna Palis. It took ten years for her youngest daughter, Palis, to be allowed to join her.
“It was easier for me, because I was unmarried and had no children at the time,” says Duda’s daughter Palis, who came to the US in 2010. For her older sister Kupchyshyna, it was a tougher process because she had a family.
She finally got her exit interview in November 2021, and her documents were received at the end of January 2022, right before the war started. Kupchyshyna was already planning to leave when the bombs began dropping on February 24. “We heard rumors that something could happen, but we didn’t really believe it; we weren’t prepared. When it started, military regulations were immediate, airports shut down, and we couldn’t go anywhere. The country was at war,” she said.
Her mother, Duda, adds: “I could never imagine that I would witness anything like this being done to my country of origin. I'm grateful to God and the US that my children and grandchildren have been given a chance to escape a life filled with sounds of sirens, bombings and explosions.”
When the war began, Kupchyshyna was living in Western Ukraine, close to border of Romania and Moldova, away from the intense bombing at the capital. “I tried to help friends who were in the central part of Ukraine, which was damaged the worst. I worked to find shelter and aid for them where I was, since it was safer. Normally, it would take five hours to get from Kiev to my city, but [after the invasion] it took 48-50 hours because a lot of people were trying to escape, the traffic jams were incredible, folks had to wait several hours on a line to cross the border into Poland,” Kupchyshyna said.
The escape itself was fraught with danger. “[The Russian military] would break their rules,” recalls Kupchyshyna. “They would say that there was a [humanitarian corridor] for evacuation and give a three-hour window. But then, they would only let people out for 30 minutes and then try to kill anyone else that tried to escape through that route. People couldn’t trust what they said.”
With help from Palis and Duda in the US, Kupchyshyna was able to reach Poland with her two daughters on March 6. A week later they were on their way to New York. However, she had to leave her husband behind. “Ukrainian law says all men ages 18-65 have to stay in the Ukraine during war time, to potentially be drafted.”
Life has been different for both sisters, especially for Kupchyshyna since she arrived. “I used to work as an immigration officer in the Ukraine, Kupchyshyna says, then in the US, I became a stay-athome mom, helping my daughter with her online schooling and taking care of my father.” She has just found a job working at S&A Unified Home Care agency as a coordinator.
Despite everything, Palis is hopeful about the future of Ukraine. “We believe in us and in our people. We are strong and are ready to fight. We have a rich culture and history and know our achievements. Thanks to our strength, the USA and other European countries, we will win, hopefully it’ll be over in several months, but we’ll win.”