Until recently, Maria Anchyshkina shuddered when planes flew overhead through the blue California sky. On February 24, Maria and her 12-year-old son Petro Podinako were living in Lviv, Ukraine when Russian troops invaded the country. Ukrainians lived in terror under constant air raid sirens and explosions. “It was scary because we were never sure of what would happen next,” Maria said.
Two days later, Maria sent Petro to Poland with her mother. Instead of following them to safety, Maria stayed in Lviv, a refugee hub for the country. For almost two months she helped refugees find shelter and escape the country, and when the crowds of refugees started to thin out, Maria left for Poland.
Maria and Petro had a flight to the U.S. from Frankfurt, Germany, but were barred from boarding when they didn’t have the necessary visa for a layover in Seattle. Instead, they journeyed through Brussels, Cuba, Cancun, Mexico City, Tijuana and a refugee camp on the Mexican border. On April 18, Maria and Petro finally crossed the border, reaching their new home — San Carlos, California — where Maria’s brother Yegor lives with his wife Vira and three children. Stepping onto unfamiliar soil, Petro began learning English from scratch, while Maria was already semi-fluent from watching American television like “Friends” and “Sex in the City”.
Now, Maria has a different fight ahead of her. In Ukraine, she was a psychotherapist. However, the humanitarian parole that allowed Maria to claim asylum doesn’t allow her to work in the United States. So instead, she volunteers as a therapist every day, providing free services to her Ukrainian clients who can no longer afford such healthcare. Before the war, Maria chose to become a therapist because she was good at it and liked being able to help people. Now, she’s a therapist specializing in trauma because the people she once served need her help.
Maria and Petro, like many Ukrainian refugees, wish they could go home ri