A mother, father and son forced to escape Ukraine and leave their war-torn home behind are now on their way to a new start in Utah after reuniting with family members at the San Ysidro Port of Entry.
Lila, Yuri and Max Shilakhov arrived at the border early on Wednesday morning after traveling a path through several countries, including Romania, Moldova and Mexico.
On hand to greet them with open arms at San Ysidro were Lila’s sister and brother-in-law, Tatiana and Jim Coles, who drove out from their home in Salt Lake City.
“A week ago, we were trying to decide what the path would be — if they could even come here — and, thank God, it worked,” Jim said.
“Lila [told] me, 'I don’t believe we’re here, I don’t believe we’re here,' ” Tatiana said, holding tightly to her sister’s arm.
The family fought back tears as they described the situation in their home city of Mykolaiv (also known as Nikolaev).
“Sometimes I couldn’t even not lie down, sleep, because they hear bombing in Nikolaev,” Tatiana said. Then, translating for Yuri, added, “He says they’re just bombing people when they’re leaving.”
When the Shilakhovs fled Ukraine, they left most of their belongings behind, only bringing what they could fit in a suitcase.
“I served in the U.S. military and I’ve seen a lot of things, but I’ve never had to just walk away from everything that I ever had,” Jim said. “So, it’s a tribute to them for being able to be strong and do this.”
Tatiana said she and her family are frustrated and angry.
“I hate Putin, and what he’s doing is just criminal,” Tatiana said.
For right now, though, Tatiana said she’s happy knowing her loved ones are safe.
“I didn’t ask — at least these people — how they are today,” Tatiana said. “I will know how they are today.”