WINDSOR LOCKS, Conn. — A newlywed European couple landed safely in Connecticut after fleeing from the war in Ukraine against Russia.
Semen Bobrovskii and Daria Sakhniuk found a sponsor in Connecticut to house them and have been given humanitarian parole. The two were staying at a refugee camp in Tijuana, Mexico. That’s where they met Hartford immigration attorney Dana Bucin.
The couple, who met in 2018, left Kyiv in late February once the war started. They then left the country, where Sakhniuk is from, in March.
“Right now, we’re feeling safe. Right now, we feel like we are standing on the ground with both feet so it feels good, said Bobrovskii. “It feels good to be safe and be standing on American soil.”
The war is entering its tenth week. Bobrovskii said, as a Russian, he feels both sad and guilty. He feels as if he has been betrayed by his own country and feels as if they want to “kill” him. He lived in Ukraine for four years before leaving.
“It’s never going to be the same Russia to me,” he said.
The couple said there is no freedom of speech in Russia and people are afraid to speak out against the war. He says those who do are beaten and put in jail. They said there is not a trustable source of information in the country.
“The most horrible thing about it is, because of the Russian propaganda, people do not understand completely what is going on in the Ukrainian cities and towns,” said Sakhniuk, using her husband as a translator.
The two were supposed to get married in Kyiv. Instead, they got married at the camp on her birthday, April 13.
“It’s just wonderful. She’s now calling me ‘husband,’ I call her ‘wife,’” he said. “Makes us feel that it’s not a loss. That humanity will win.”
Friends picked them up from Kyiv and took them to a home near her relatives where they stayed for a month. He did venture back to the city to see what it was like but said it was not safe. They said a friend lost a child in the war.
“The house we’ve been living in was shaking like it was an earthquake,” he said.
They called the war “genocide” from the Russian government and want a reason as to why it’s happening. They say the two countries are family.
The two eventually made their way to Mexico where thousands of refugees are stationed. That’s where they met Bucin, a partner at Murtha Cullina LLP. She is also with the Honorary Consul of Romania to Connecticut. She said she saw her home country of Romania accepting Ukrainian refugees and wanted to help as well. Then, she learned refugees were gathering at the Tijuana border near San Diego.
“I said to myself, “This is it. This is what I need to do,” said Bucin. “There were so many of them who didn’t know their rights. They didn’t know what to ask for.”
Donations she collected helped cover travel costs. Many are getting one-year humanitarian parole, which is granted to people for emergency reasons and public benefit. She spent three days at the border.
“It’s very hectic,” she said. “There’s a lot of kids. A lot of babies. One-month-old babies.”
She said people are assigned a number and called when they can be loaded on a bus to the border. Most of the people who come, she says, know someone in the U.S. The other 10% are those who don’t have housing.
At the San Diego airport, she said they ran into many refugees going all across the country.
“Flying to random places just because some church community over there who doesn’t know them has offered to take them in,” she said.
She said Bobrovskii and Sakhniuk will be a benefit to the community, whether they stay long-term or not, as he is a hearing aid specialist and she was an office manager at a dentist's office.
The couple said they aren’t sure if they would return to Europe. After some rest, he says they’ll try to make things work.
Bucin recommends other immigrant attorneys help those at the border as well. She said it is the start of a new life, but that there are still many hurdles to overcome after coming to America.
She wants to recover from the trip because of how intense it was and would consider going again but said more funding would be needed to help the mission.
“We also want to say to the world that we believe in our country,” Sakhniuk said. “We believe in the victory of Ukraine and we will come back to build the great Ukraine that we love.”
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