I have just one story for this week’s ‘good people’ post, but it involves so many good people helping a family of refugees from Ukraine that I’ve lost count. Be sure you have a box of tissues handy for this one, my friends.
Back in February when Russian troops attacked Ukraine and rockets landed less than two miles from their home, the Bezhenar family of Odessa knew they needed to leave the country for their safety. So the family of six: (Oleksandr (father), Mariia (mother), Nina (grandmother) and 3 daughters – Ahnessa (age 10), Anhelina (age 15), and Eleonora (age 17) set out for the border leaving everything behind except one suitcase each. They left their home, Oleksandr’s business, and the family pets, two dogs and a couple of cats.
It was no small feat leaving Ukraine … they waited in line for more than 24 hours at the border to Romania, fearing they might not be allowed to cross because of the rule that males under age 55 would not be allowed to leave Ukraine because they were needed for military duty. But when they finally reached the front of the line, they were told that there is an exception for men who are accompanying more than two children and they were allowed to cross.
After arriving in a refugee camp in Romania, the family was linked via a refugee program to a man in the San Francisco Bay Area, Geoffrey Peters, whose son had recently purchased a house he was planning to rent out. Mr. Peters convinced his son to donate the house to a refugee family for a period of two years, and he offered it to the Bezhenar family.
After two months of paperwork delays, the Bezhenars were finally on their way to their new home in Cloverdale, just outside of San Francisco. Their new home with no furniture. But Mr. Peters called on friends and neighbors for help and the people of Cloverdale came together in remarkable ways! They not only furnished the house, but upon learning that the Bezhenar’s daughters were musically inclined, someone donated a piano! They entered their new home to find a fully stocked refrigerator and a welcome cake with a Ukrainian sunflower for decoration.
Geoffrey Peters tells their story in his own words on the GoFundMe page he set up to help the Bezhenar family. What you’ve read so far, in and of itself, would be a good people story, with Mr. Peters, his son, and the many community members of Cloverdale who did so much to make this refugee family feel welcome, but … it doesn’t end there!
Now, during the flight from Romania to San Francisco, the family’s mum, Mariia, chatted with one of the flight attendants, Dee Harnish, and the two exchanged contact information and stayed in touch in the days after, as the Bezhenars settled into their new life. One day, Dee Harnish called Mariia to see how they were doing and was told that the youngest daughter, Ahnessa, missed her cat, Arsenii, so much she was not sleeping well and had become inconsolable. Dee was so moved by their story that she reached out to Caroline Viola, a fellow flight attendant who is involved in animal rescue. Caroline recognized the desire to get Arsenii out of Ukraine as the monumental mission that it was, but nevertheless she offered to see what she could do.
From her home in Hawaii, Caroline worked with a rescue worker in Houston, Texas, and Arsenii’s journey was about to begin. Mariia’s brother-in-law, who was taking care of Arsenii back in Ukraine, took care of details on his end, getting him vaccinated, microchipped, and obtaining a passport for the furry family member. Who knew pets needed a passport??? He then drove Arsenii across the border on his motorcycle to Moldova. Then, a driver took him to Romania, where he lived with a foster family for one month while his passport and other documents had to be re-done, since he came from a non-EU country. Finally, with paperwork all in order, Arsenii was ready to head to the U.S. to rejoin his family!
Another person involved with animal rescue, Mimi Kate, was on vacation in Greece at the time, but when advised of the need for a human to accompany Arsenii, she cut her vacation short and went to pick up Arsenii in Romania. There, a tuk-tuk driver, as if the story couldn’t find room for more characters, helped out, and drove Arsenii and Kate from Bucharest back to make her flight in Athens. Kate then took Arsenii from Athens to Montreal, Canada, then back to her home in Seattle, Washington. Aresnii had put 7,000 miles under his paws. And at the end of the long journey …
The entire Bezhenar family greeted them at the airport and what a reunion it was! So many good people working so hard to get this family to safety, help them establish a whole new life, and reunite them with their beloved furry family member. I think you’ll love this video of the reunion … I certainly did. You did remember your box of tissues, right?