An Interview with Mom & Dad

Thursday, May 5, 2011

This is not much of a travel post, but more of a personal post while we are covering Ukraine.

Some people have asked why we moved to America from Ukraine. I figured no one could answer better than my parents, and I was interested in the answers myself. So I conducted a little interview with them over Skype video chat.

One of the things that really surprised me was that my mom didn't even mention during the interview that she was pregnant throughout the 3 month immigration process! My little brother was born 2 months after we arrived in America, which means she gave birth in a new country, in a foreign hospital, not knowing the language, far from any family, not having much of anything for the baby. She's a tough woman. I can't imagine leaving the States forever with Yuriy and a bunch of kids in tow to a totally new country where nobody speaks a lick of English, no money, and our family and friends half way across the globe. I think it would be much easier for young people to make such a life-changing move. But especially in middle age with a family, it seems easier to just stay put where you are and ride it out, even if living conditions suck. I admire and respect my parents so much for their bravery.

This was all said in Ukrainian and translated by me into English.

- Julia

[Our family in Ukraine in 1989, shortly before leaving the country. That's little me in my mom's lap.]

Julia: Why did you decide to move to America with your family?
Dad: For religious freedom and better life.
Mom: We weren’t allowed to study. I wanted to be a doctor, or engineer, or nurse. You couldn’t get a bachelor degree if you didn’t belong to the Youth Communist Party (an organization everyone belonged to until 27 years old, then after 27 everyone joined the Communist Party). Even if you somehow finished a degree, you couldn’t get a job if they knew you were Christian. I ended up working as an accountant in a hospital.
Dad: We didn’t know the Soviet Union would break up. We were persecuted as Christians. We weren’t supposed to attend church and didn’t have the freedom to build a church building. We gathered in homes. We couldn’t get good jobs. We had simple jobs, even though we studied well in school. My father was in prison for 3 years for being Christian [when I was a kid]. The opportunity came up that wasn’t there before, and we didn’t know how long it would last, so we decided to go.
Mom: It was scary. Especially with little kids. You, Julia, were just one year old. It was Dad’s idea to go.
Dad: We were beat up at school and kicked out for our faith. We didn’t wear the special stars on our uniform ties. The teachers taught the students to laugh at Christians.

Julia: Who first gave you the idea to leave Ukraine?
Dad: During the early 70s was the first movement of Christians who were trying to escape, but the Soviet Union didn’t allow them to leave the country. When Gorbochov came into office, he allowed those who were persecuted, for political or religious reasons, to leave the Soviet Union. My brother Ivan wanted to go first and gave me the idea, but his wife really didn’t want to move, so we beat him to it (they came a couple years later).

Julia: Were either you or dad against the move?
Mom: At first I didn’t want to move because I was pregnant with Julia. I said give me peace. After the baby is born, I’ll think about it. Then you (Julia) were born and I gave in.

Julia: What was the process to immigrate to America from the USSR?
Dad: The USSR only allowed persecuted residents to leave. First of all, you had to have an invitation from Israel. The USSR didn’t allow us to leave to America. On the way to Israel, we stopped in Vienna and Rome for a period of time and a refugee organization there helped us move to America. Some people moved to Canada, some to Australia, but mostly to America.

[our family in Rome in 1989, on the way to America]

Julia: What were you worried about or afraid of before the move?
Dad: Worried about the language.
Mom: That we would miss home. If we would be comfortable here with our kids.
Dad: We were worried if we would ever be able to enter the USSR again. We left all our family there. When we left, we had to pay 800 rubles and reject our USSR citizenship. This was a major crime at the time, but in order to leave it was required. So we were considered criminals, and we were worried they’d never let us into our home country again.

Julia: During your first months in America, what did you love most about the country?
Dad: Stores. That there was everything in the stores. In Ukraine, we stood in line for food every week. There wasn’t enough food in the stores. If you needed butter or sausage, you had to stand in line for 2 hours. Ordinary butter was in deficit.
Mom: No meat in stores. No sausage in stores. No butter in stores. And some people didn’t even have the money.  And remember we lived in the city.
Julia: Where was all the food?
Mom: They sent it away to Russia.
Dad: We don’t know why there was no food.

Julia: What did you dislike during your first few months in America?
Dad: The buildings. They seemed very uncomfortable and ugly in comparison to Europe.
Mom: Mostly the apartments. We were living in apartments at first and really didn’t like them.
Dad: Stores were ugly too.
Mom: We didn’t see anything pretty for a long time. We also missed home a lot.
Dad: When we had a baby, David, [2 months after arriving in America] people told us to hide him. We were warned that criminals and bad people were everywhere in America. Also, people mowed the lawns on Sundays and on Easter.
Mom: This was incredible to us! Everyone in Ukraine (even Communists/atheists) cleaned and prepared for Easter. Cooked food, cleaned up their yards… everything in preparation for Easter. You would never find someone mowing their lawn or working on Easter.

[our family fresh in America in 1990 with a new baby brother]

Julia: In hindsight, are you glad that you and Dad made the move to America 21 years ago?
Mom & Dad: Yes [without hesitation].
Mom: We are happy for our kids. They can study here. Even though you can study there nowadays, but its easier and better here.
Dad: When you weigh the pros and cons, we are glad we are here. When we moved, we had free churches in America. You just felt more free and easy. We could breathe easier. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the economy was terrible, in ’91, ’92, ’93, and we missed all of it.  
Mom: At that time there was nothing in stores.
Dad: Back in the USSR, Christians were constantly afraid that they would be put in jail or sent to Siberia. Here [in America] that fear no longer existed. Many people we knew were in jail for 5 years and then sent to Siberia for 10 years. We know people who are now in America who came from their exile in Siberia [for their Christian faith].

[with my Mom & Dad today... well, at our recent wedding]

Julia: If you knew the Soviet Union would crumble in a couple years, would you have moved?
Mom: Probably not.

Julia: Why did people move to America after the collapse of the USSR anyway? (Yuriy’s family moved in 1992)
Dad: The economy was in shambles. Everything was uncertain and bad for a long time. Crime was up. People didn’t have anything to live for. People stole each other’s stuff. There were people who required money or they would do harm to your home, business, or even kill you. People in Ukraine didn’t know if the Communists would gain control again. They expected the worst.


  1. I really enjoyed reading this! What an incredible choice to have to make. I can't imagine. I also loved seeing your wedding photo-- so beautiful!

  2. so interesting to read! my husband is from poland & they left while it was still under communist rule. and because of that they had to leave like they were on vacation with only a few things. left everything behind with only money taped to to their son (my now husband) so crazy to hear all the stories....


  3. I find this especially fascinating because I spend a lot of time in Poland, where my boyfriend (who is Polish) and his family live. I always ask his dad to tell me stories about communism and how it effected their family life or spirits in general. It's something I learned about in school but never really cared about until moving to Europe.

    Apart from that, your wedding dress is divine.

  4. Oh Julia, this was fascinating! Thank you so much for sharing. Did you know most of these details before, or did you learn some stuff throughout the interview as well?

    Your parents were so courageous. Like you, I can't imagine moving somewhere with Mike with a bunch of kids to somewhere where no one spoke English.

    Also, you are a darn cute baby (photo 1) AND you are such a stunner (wedding photo).


  5. wow, what an incredible story. your parents are very brave and obviously love you and your siblings very much. i wonder - were they able to find jobs easily or was there somebody available to help them transition, somebody that helped people in similar situations to theirs?

  6. This is really interesting. I was born in Bucharest, Romania and I immigrated to the U.S. with my Mom in 1992. Romania was in shambles during the time of my birth up until we moved. I have gone back to visit twice since immigrating to the U.S. and it almost makes me sad every time. My birth place is sad and desolate and dirty. I'm glad yours still looks like people have tried carry on with their lives in pride. Not so much in Romania. I was there recently in January and tears came to my eyes again.
    I love reading your blog posts.

  7. mindy- Taped money to a kid? Haha. It's so great to hear all the stories out there. I can't believe how many there are.

    janis- I knew a lot of it, but still learned quite a bit! I feel like I should know all the stories by now, but every time Ukraine comes up with my parents, I learn something new. Makes me want to interview/photograph my parents/grandparents like crazy so I can know and remember everything.

    {jaclyn}- There was an American family that "sponsored us" when we arrived in the US. They even threw my mom a baby shower when my little brother was born. I don't know what we would have done without them. We had government help during our first years in America and my parents both took English classes so they could start working.

  8. Thanks so much for sharing this, Julia... it's fascinating and inspiring. What a heritage you have!

  9. I love this post! What a great look into your parents' life. I am too an immigrant and I have been living here, in this country for 17 years... Without a doubt, my home... Although my situation was not as dire as your parents, I can relate. Thanks for such a lovely post.


  10. Your family's story is so moving. Please thank your parents for sharing this! What brave and wonderful people. By the way, your wedding dress was absolutely gorgeous (where did you get it?!)

  11. This was so interesting, I hope you do a part 2! What does your family think who still lives in Ukraine? Do they wish they had come to the US too? How long did it take for your parents to learn English? Did Yuriy's family go through a similar process and how did you two meet?

  12. Awesome post! It's crazy how so much of your parents lives resembled that of my parents as well, but in a completely different part of the USSR. My mom grew up in today's Russia and my dad in today's Uzbekistan.

  13. fascinating. thank you for sharing.

  14. It makes me so thankful for the freedom that I so often take for granted living here. Thanks for sharing, Julia! :)

  15. Thank you so much for sharing their story. Such brave and ambitious people! It was really fascinating to read what life was like under the USSR, especially since it's the polar opposite of what I grew up with.


  16. Love post ! Also your wedding dress is so pretty, you look beautiful ! So good to know so much about the historic past, I feel the urge to read up more about the Soviet Union now ! Thanks for this great insightful post !

  17. This interview with your parents was fascinating. Thank you for sharing.

  18. Oh, and at my elementary school there were several families who had recently arrived from both Ukraine and Russia. Seeing those poofy hair bows right on top of the head reminds me so much of my childhood friends. :)

  19. wow such an incredible story. thank you for sharing. it's so interesting for me to learn about what life was like not so long ago for people living in such oppressive times like that; the decision they made was a tough one but so courageous. makes me incredible thankful for the freedom i've always had as a canadian.

  20. Wow - thanks for sharing! I know so little about even recent history of the USSR & Eastern Europe. Being born and raised in America, it's hard to imagine circumstances that would make raising a family in my own country so difficult. Your parents seem pretty amazing for being able to make that hard decision and leave everything that was familiar!

  21. I really appreciate that you shared this when you didn't have to. It's been a journey looking at the photos from your hometown and see the rest of them from the world.

  22. What an amazing story - thanks to you and your parents for sharing it.

  23. thanks for sharing this amazing story. My parents have a similar story of their escape and move to America.

  24. I cried reading your interview with your parents - it was so touching. You have such a beautiful family. I loved all the pictures you posted. Especially the picture of you in your wedding dress - gorgeous!

    Your family has an amazing story. I'm so glad your family could find peace, happiness and (religious) freedom in America.

    It's always sad to hear about people being persecuted for their beliefs. It's also sad to hear that your dad was in prison for 3 years and that your parents know of others who were in prison for 5 years and then sent to Siberia for 10 years.

    My husband is a fellow of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies. The mission of the center is to help secure the blessings of freedom of religion and belief for all people:

    My husband also was recently in Vienna for an EU Fundamental Rights Conference in which he promoted freedom of religion. He was also touched by your parents' interview. Thanks for sharing. :)

  25. Really interesting, thank you for sharing! We've just been to the Ukraine and are still in Eastern Europe, so this really adds a whole new perspective to everything.

  26. beautiful, thanks for sharing.

  27. you have a beautiful family and a beautiful story!

  28. Such great insight. I never really thought about moving to another country could be so dangerous. Your parents are very courageous people. Are you thinking about doing an interview with Yuriy's parents?

  29. this is incredible. beautiful story - thanks for sharing

  30. Awesome story, Thank you for sharing!!

  31. It would make a great movie you guys...have you considered that? Such a moving story and thanks for sharing and letting us all honor it too.

  32. Thanks for sharing this story Julia. All the hardship in the past make us appreciate life now isn't it? My grandparents were also immigrants from Indonesia and they were forced to Malaysia for better life. Now, im glad that both families in Indonesia & Malaysia are still in contact and have good relation.

  33. This was a very moving and inspiring interview. Thank you so much for sharing.

  34. Thanks for sharing this. I am a teacher, and my classroom aide moved her from the Ukraine 5 years ago with her husband and two daughters. Her sister just arrived in January, with a teenage son.Now I have some sense of their stories, through yours.

  35. this is amazing and facinating and beautful. this might not be the right question to ask, but what are those amazing poofs your sisters are wearing on thier heads?! I love them!!! are they traditional?


  36. Thanks so much to everyone. It was really touching to hear such a positive response to my family's history... not just for me, but for all my family members who read this.

    Life is Good- So many Qs! My family in Ukraine wanted to move with us but didn't get permission at the time and now they feel its too late to start over in America. They are good where they're at now. My parents' English improved over the years, especially when they started working in America... still far from perfect. Yuriy's family's move was similar, but a little simpler--they moved in 1992 after Ukraine gained it's independence, so they were able to travel straight to America. And we met through friends when I was in Seattle for Bible school. Then I ended up moving here later and we started dating. :)

    Brittany Bless- Your response was really heartfelt. Thank you for what you guys are doing.

    Samantha- Yuriy's family's move was similar, so maybe we'll just do an interview for ourselves but won't post it here.

    nikaela marie- Yes, every little Russian & Ukrainian girl used to wear these enormous bows! We thought they were so dorky when we first moved to America (because they were different), but I agree.. they are super cute now.

  37. very interesting post. i also found it interesting that during immigration, your parents were concerned about never being able to return.

    from what i've heard from other immigrants, including my parents, they packed their clothes and left without looking back. their desire was to leave the soviet union and neverrrrrr return.

    since i was 7 when we migrated to America, I remember alot of things about my birth town. regardless of the structural beauty, the history, and the culture, it's a place i do not miss and have zero desire to visit.

    i'm extremely thankful for my parents bravery to bring us to a better place :)

    thanks for sharing your story!

  38. Hi Julia! I found your blog through Natasha's Kitchen.

    This post was very interesting for me. My fiance is from Odessa, and well, his family had quite a different life under communism. His father was an officer in the army and his mother was a school teacher. From what I can tell, their lives are better under capitalism, but they and most people they knew didn't have it bad.

    I'm always a little shocked when they display a nostalgia for the USSR, asking them, "But wasn't it bad for most people?" They always say that it wasn't. It's amazing how a person can be blind to the tragedy experienced by many, just because their life was good under the same circumstances. Personal experience does not contain more truth than the evidence of millions of experiences taken together, but that's a very difficult thing for the human mind to grasp!

  39. This is so moving and simply stunning. What strong parents-in-law you have. Thank you so much for sharing. I really had no idea of the struggles in the 80's in the Ukraine.

  40. Wonderful post!!! Very touching... can relate to most of it.

    My father spent 8 years in prison for his beliefs.(before he was married or had kids)

    My parents to this day, do not regret bringing our family here, also moved in 1989 with 7 kids- youngest few months old. It was a 3 month journey as well.

    Now all my mom's and dad's family members live in U.S. - different states, but better than across an ocean!

    Loved your post! Love hearing other peoples stories about why they came, and how it was for them. Thanks for sharing the interview!

  41. This is so eye-opening, even though I'm supposed to know all of this. I didn't know a lot of the details. I am in love with my powder-blue velour tracksuit, complete with sandals and poufy bow! I love how the bows tied on with strings instead of clips, like in America. I still remember that about them.

  42. I LOVE your blogs. I always wanted to comment, but didn't have the time. Everytime I have the chance, or want a quick sneaky break from studying I go on your blogs.. I love it. And I especially LOVE blogs of Ukraine or Europe. My parents are from there, and I was born here so it is always very interesting for me. Thanks so much!

  43. What an incredible story! (and also from others who have commented here)
    I was born and live in Australia and it is so easy for me to taken my freedom (both physically and religiously) for granted. What strength and courage your parents showed to make that move.
    My husband's family lived in South Africa and migrated to Australia during the apartheid. They also had to denounce citizenship to leave the country. The faith of people who have had to do this just amazes me. Thankyou for this post.

  44. Such an interesting story to read and I enjoyed reading it as well. Keep up the good work. russian wife

  45. This was very interesting seeing as my husband and I are missionaries to Siberia. A Ukrainian family friend shared this link with us. Thank you for sharing your story!

  46. Thanks for sharing Julia, this was quite an interesting story. I'd love to know the story about your grandparents.

  47. Oh wow, what a fascinating story. Thank you for sharing this very touching post.

  48. i feel like i was reading my own parents story!!!

  49. Thanks for sharing your story! I loved to read it! We're from Hungary but living in The Netherlands, I imagine that our story will be a bit similar (not that sad) in 20 years for our kids! What a strange feeling...

  50. I've totally fallen in love with you guys and your blog. I moved to the states as a child with a similar story. My parents were basically running away from terrorism in Peru in the 90's the first time, but that didn't work out. The second time it was basically just to get away from the bad economy and the lack of jobs. Your story and that of your parents is very touching, and very similar to my own. Thank you for sharing, I genuinely loved reading this!