Daughter brings Ukrainian parents to BI

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When Lidia and Vitaly Chechotkin had dinner with their daughter Lena Levin at Piroshky Piroshky at Pike Place Market in Seattle on Orthodox Easter Saturday, no one could have guessed what a journey they had to sit there.

For the Chekhotkins, it was two traumatic months of the war in Ukraine. They have endured daily shelling in their hometown of Mykolayiv, experienced food shortages, feared for their lives, been surprised by the kindness of strangers, and survived it all with family ties that stretched halfway around the world, eventually bringing them to Bainbridge Island.

After a Russian shell landed in front of her parents’ condo on March 11, destroying her windows, Levin implored her to flee the country. But her mother didn’t want to leave her big garden and she was afraid that the Russians would bomb her as she tried to escape. But after 50 days of sleepless nights, constant shelling and panic attacks, Lidia Levin called and asked for help.

Levin arranged bus tickets for the trip to Bucharest, Romania. Carrying a small bag each and their cat Vasya, the Chechotkins left the 24-hour journey to a refugee center in Bucharest on April 9. Volunteers there helped them book free train tickets for a 12-hour trip to Budapest, Hungary, where Levin met them at a refugee center on April 13.

There, refugees were supported in booking free train tickets to neighboring countries and free plane tickets to Spain. Levin helped by volunteering as a translator and directing refugees to services they needed. Levin and her parents stayed in an apartment in Budapest for a week to make travel arrangements and await the arrival of her partner Michael Coleman.

After the war broke out, fighting made it impossible for Lidia to get medical care. Before they could travel more, she needed an oncology appointment to review the radiation treatment she had received to treat cancer of her face and to get her first COVID-19 shot, which the treatments meant she had not received sooner.

From Budapest, the group traveled to London, Mexico City and the US-Mexico border.

When they arrived at the Tijuana airport, Ukrainian flags were everywhere and Levin said, “People are welcoming us.”

From there they drove to a special border crossing corridor set up for Ukrainian refugees and spent two hours in a gym that had been converted into a refugee center run by volunteers who provided food, legal assistance, medical care and sleeping accommodation.

“All types of infrastructure were donation-based. It’s pretty amazing. We were pretty shocked at how well it went,” Levin said.

After surviving more than 50 days of war and 12 days of travel, they crossed the border into San Diego.

“It felt like a personal victory,” said Lidia, whose comments were translated by her daughter because she speaks Russian.

After arriving in BI she added: “The island is crystal clear. it’s so perfect There is order, peace, calm, tranquility and no crime.”

Lidia is looking forward to finding a pea patch to grow vegetables because she wants to start contributing. Her husband is a big Jimi Hendrix fan and wants to see the sights in Seattle.

Meeting with Levin’s friends on Orthodox Easter Sunday and meeting other Ukrainians, the Chehotkins said they are beginning to enjoy a more peaceful life on the island.

“So our journey begins now,” said Levin, whose parents have a year of humanitarian probation to figure out what their next steps will be.

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