Ukrainian fisheries worker succeeds in bringing his wife and daughter to Petersburg

When Ukrainian Arsen Tatizian arrived in Petersburg in February he did not think he would be staying in Alaska beyond the end of his contract with OBI Seafoods, much less with his wife and his daughter at his side.

It was his second year working for OBI, though he spent his first summer at its other plants in Alaska.

He was only in Petersburg for two weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine. While he continued with work, his mind was on the safety of his wife Snizhana and their 2-year-old daughter Kateryna, or Kate in English.

They were living in Odessa, a port city on the Black Sea in the southern region of Ukraine, when the invasion began but after a week of air raid sirens they decided to move farther away from the rocket attacks.

Snizhana and Kate returned to their home in Izmail, a city along the Danube River which borders Romania, where they had lived before moving to Odessa in search of opportunity. Though they were safer there, the threat of war loomed.

"The war didn't come there yet but the fear of it that it will come soon," Arsen said. "So I am far away and they don't know what happens tomorrow so that's why I decided to try to bring them here."

In his discussions with other Ukrainians at OBI he heard about Uniting for Ukraine, a government program that allows Ukrainians to come to the United States. A requirement of the program is to have a supporter in the United States who agrees to provide for arriving refugees during their stay and after a friend of his, also from Ukraine, applied and was accepted as a sponsor he decided to give it a shot.

He took a day off from work and spent 12 hours filling out forms online as part of the application process and after another two days of waiting he was approved.

Though it was a moment of great joy to know that his family would be able to come to the United States, it was also a moment of great difficulty as he set out to plan their journey and prepare for their new life that would begin in just two weeks.

Snizhana does not speak English and had never traveled by plane before, so before they left she downloaded an offline translator app and learned as much as she could about airport travel.

While Arsen was planning their trip, a community-wide effort mounted to prepare for their arrival in Petersburg.

They spent the next 14 days brainstorming and working to reach everyone they could in Petersburg to help get accommodations for when they arrived and would meet with Arsen over his half-hour lunch and dinner breaks.

On the other side of the world, Snizhana and Kate were getting on a bus in Izmail to travel seven hours to Bucharest, Romania.

From there they flew to Frankfurt, Germany, where they waited for six hours before the longest leg of their journey - a 10-hour flight to Anchorage. When they arrived they were greeted by Jessica Bringhurst Hill, who is from Petersburg but now lives in Anchorage.

She had seen a Facebook post asking if there was anyone in Anchorage who could host them and volunteered to pick them up from the airport and gave them a place to stay and food to eat.

Over the next two days, Snizhana filled out paperwork and applied for benefits with the help of Zori Opanasevych of New Chance Christian Church's Ukraine relief program.

"So people help us on every step and every step we make we always see the help from people, so I'm very grateful to the community. I love the Alaska community," Arsen said.

After being apart for half a year, Snizhana and Kate arrived in Petersburg on Aug. 11 and the family was reunited. "It was finally, just finally thank God we are together and safe," Arsen said.

Before Snizhana and Kate's arrival, the group working in Petersburg were able to find a place for them to move into after contacting Sarah Holmgrain with Petersburg Properties, who said two apartments had just opened up and met with Arsen to quickly secure one of them.

Soon, baby clothes, diapers, a stroller, food, kitchenware, and other household items started filling a volunteers' yard as people, many of whom were anonymous, dropped off what they had to offer.

OBI donated beds, and others donated furniture. "When they put everything inside the house I was at work. I (wasn't) involved in this, so I just came and it's like all done. I mean, I don't have words, I don't know what to say. I'm grateful for all people," Arsen said.

They have since been adjusting to life in Petersburg, and they plan on staying beyond the end of Arsen's contract with OBI.

Arsen said the family hopes to eventually return to Ukraine, but thinks that it could take years for them to go back if the war continues. He is currently in the United States through a work visa, which OBI has extended, but he is applying for temporary protective status and has scheduled a trip to Anchorage to complete the process.

After his season with OBI is over, he is confident that he will be able to find a job. He aspires to return to repairing computers, cell phones and TVs, which was his job in Ukraine.

 

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