Three Ukrainian Teenagers in Minnesota. How it all started…
Since the war erupted, many Ukrainian students have lost access to education. For students in Ukraine today, a typical day involves finding reliable Wi-Fi, not knowing if their teacher can join the class via the Viber app, and doing homework with sirens and bombing sounds in the background. I was born in Moldova, came to the United States when I was 15, and did not speak much English. Today I hold a Ph.D. in Human Computer Interaction from Iowa State University and work as a researcher at Amazon. As a researcher, Rotarian, and individual, I know what benefits access to good education can bring and how it can impact a person and community. This is why I knew I had to do something for students in Ukraine.
Since mid-May 2022, I have been working on a personal project to bring Ukrainian youth to Minnesota to study. To find students, I contacted my personal and professional contacts in the US and abroad. I called and messaged my family members, friends, former colleagues, Iowa State University’s contacts, Rotarians, and iMiracleProject volunteers. Although coming and studying in Minnesota appealed to many, some families declined. Parents were afraid to send their children overseas, and students were afraid they did not have enough knowledge and English to fit into the American school system. Then there were legal challenges.
Typically, if an international student comes to study in the US he or she must apply for an international student visa. This process requires an in-person appointment at the American embassy, and since the only American embassy in Ukraine, which is located in Kyiv, was not accepting appointments, all students in Ukraine must travel abroad and seek an appointment at the American embassy in another European country. I emailed the American embassy in Chisinau, Moldova, requesting multiple appointments. I received the email stating that at that time, only Moldavian citizens were prioritized for such appointments and the embassy could not estimate the wait time for non-residents. Due to financial and logistical reasons, traveling to another European country became an impossible task for the Ukrainian families. This was when I learned about the Uniting for Ukraine (U4U) program. Created by President Biden, this program does not require Ukrainian citizens to appear in person at the American embassy; all paperwork is done online. However, it requires an American citizen, or someone already in the US, to sponsor each Ukrainian citizen. Understanding there was no other option, I agreed to sponsor each student. Since parents will remain in Ukraine and U4U requires each minor to enter the US with a parent or legal guardian, three families asked me to be the legal guardian for their child. And I said yes. Iryna, Dima, and Zlata never met until this point, but they had a lot of things in common. They love studying, are curious to learn new things, and are excited to come to Minnesota, where they can go to school, experience a new culture, and meet new friends.
The MN support to help has been amazing
Thanks to a strong Twin Cities Rotary community, I was connected to Charles Roach from Ford and Harrison and Terrie Lewis from Terrie Lewis law firm. They are helping me with all immigration and family law paperwork pro bono. The Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota is helping me to obtain medical assistance for students. Multiple friends and Rotarians donated money to help me offset the total costs and expressed interest in engaging with students. Dr. Dennis Peterson, who recently retired as Minnetonka Schools Superintendent, and former employee of Minnetonka Schools, Tim Alexander, connected me to several families who agreed to host the students as needed.
On August 10th, 2022 I traveled to Poland where I met with mothers and children. Two of those families I’ve never met, but after so many phone calls, it feels like we are already a family. The Rotary Club in Warsaw helped me with lodging and welcoming families to Poland. On August 15th students and I flew to the US and moms returned to Ukraine. In Minnesota, students will attend the schools in Eden Prairie and Minnetonka.
I thank everyone who has been so kind to help and willing to help me in the upcoming year. I could not have done it without your tremendous support. It takes a village to turn a wish into a reality. I cannot wait to welcome Iryna, Dima, and Zlata to Minnesota and show them our beautiful state and country.
If you are interested to follow along, please visit this site periodically. Here, each student will post a blog where he or she will share their weekly experience.
Special thanks to:
- Rotary Club Warszawa City – for hosting Anna, moms, and their kids in Warsaw
- Edina Noon Rotary Club – for your kind monetary donation
- FordHarrison Law Firm – for providing immigration services pro bono
- Terrie Lewis Law Office – for providing family law services pro bono
- International School of Minnesota – for providing student scholarships