Mission almost impossible: how immigrants tried to return from Ukraine to the United States during world quarantine

Yuri Mamon living in the United States, a Ukrainian in his blog for “voice of America” talked about how he was returning from Ukraine to Washington during a pandemic coronavirus and the closure of borders between States. Hereinafter in the first person.

Миссия почти невыполнима: как иммигрант пытался вернуться из Украины в США во время мирового карантина

Photo: shutterstock

I arrived in Kyiv in early March. When the United States spoke only about the individual cases of the coronavirus, and in Ukraine in General about the terrible disease only heard on TV. However, after a few days was the first recorded case, then the second and the Ukrainian government suddenly closed the border.

Ticket back to the US I have been on 25 March. First received an email from the airline that my flight is rescheduled for 9 April, it was cancelled. Events unfolded very quickly, every day in Ukraine recorded a new case of the disease COVID-19, and in the US the account went on tens of thousands…

Fourteen day quarantine in Ukraine must end on 3 April. It seemed to me — everything will be… the boundaries will open and I will fly back to Washington. I live there, work there, my personal things — I can’t stay in Ukraine for a long time. However, on 25 March it became known that the Ukrainian government continues to quarantine further, this time until the end of April. It became clear — this is just the beginning and sky is unlikely to be opened soon, the epidemic is just beginning. Have to leave as soon as possible, but how? Flights cancelled!

Through the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine and of Ukraine to the USA I became aware of the flights of UIA (Ukraine International airlines) organized for the citizens of Ukraine and the USA is ready to go home. Departure from Kiev airport Borispol and arriving at JFK airport in new York city, where the pandemic has already reached emergency proportions.

To say that I was scared to fly to new York is nothing to say. Imagine: fly into the airport, passed through potentially tens of thousands infected with the coronavirus. However there was little choice — the flight — either now or perhaps after six months will not fly.

The first such flight was scheduled on March 25. I tried to buy a ticket 23rd. Places left a bit so the tickets cost a lot: 50 000 hryvnia (about $ 2,000) per person, one way. And I’m with my wife. The next day was declared another flight on March 27, the route is the same, only now there is already the tickets can be found at half the price — 25 000 hryvnia (about $ 1,000). However, it is still expensive. There is also a letter from the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine:

“If you need to leave Ukraine now, or are you suggesting that you will need to depart soon, we recommend you consider booking this flight. This may be your last opportunity in the near future”

The decision was made to fly! Scary? Not the right word. And today I can’t stop thinking: why on this flight the tickets were so expensive, if the flight was not commercial and the plane was filled for at least 80 percent.

First I need to get to Kiev. By the time I was in Kharkov. Intercity trains/buses in Ukraine were not walking to get from Kharkiv to Kiev without their own car is almost impossible. No other option than Bla Bla Car I found. In Kharkov, by the way, in late March, public transport has already been restricted, closed small businesses, supermarkets were allowed only a few people and most people on the streets were already wearing masks. At the same time, few have kept my distance, especially strongly it was felt in pharmacies, or supermarkets, those behind you are actually breathing in the back. However it should be noted that since the war not all.

Bla Bla Car from Kharkiv to Kiev cost 800 hryvnia (about $ 30) for two — the price is adequate, a ticket to a high-speed Express train costs about the same. Driver: educated, intelligent young man and at first glance thought that he was living a carefree life, never grief do not know. However it later turned out, it is not so. Night highway Kharkiv-Kiev and two strangers in his car, which is unlikely yet to see — the atmosphere seemed motivated him to come forward. As it turned out, he the refugees.

In 2014 he studied at the University in Donetsk. After the outbreak of war immediately moved to Kharkov to study. He received the diploma of the guy moved to Kiev, found a job in the government, worked desperately, because he knew no one could help him — parents remained in the occupied Donetsk — now he’s helping them. Then one day, he went to visit mom and dad and at the roadblock DND at him handcuffed and imprisoned for 15 months (to clarify). Says pressed psychologically: why not came to the defense of Donbass? Why is working in the state structure of Ukraine? Charged with treason, espionage and so on. At the time he was 23.

He was listed on the exchange, however all constantly frustrated, of parental transfer is not reached, it seemed that life was broken: he is young and behind bars on site where the stronger one who has the gun in his hand. There, he once said: “In prison the main thing is not to go nukuhou and remain yourself.” And he, being in an enclosed space, realized the need to live in the moment, to the emotions because emotions is what gave him the strength to move on and wait for the day when this is all over.

It’s been 15 months and its just as suddenly as it had put, released. He returned to Kiev, back at work, living his life only to parents here no longer goes. The story of his life little guy who says, today, he remembers all this as a joke, at least, says that the isolation in connection with the spread of the coronavirus, he is now not afraid.

Borispol airport, despite the fact that officially was closed on 27 March continued to accept and send planes. That day was scheduled a number of flights, including my new York. In terminal “F’ travelling was a lot.

In Ukraine, few comply with the rules of social distancing, all wear masks and think that’s enough. The Americans think otherwise: the mask can not wear, but keep social distance, and this is immediately felt in the queue for boarding a flight to new York- the distance between us was at least 1 meter.

You know this nice moment when you enter the plane, you’re welcome lovely, polite and neatly dressed stewardesses? Now on this flight it looked radically different: flight attendants are polite, of course, were, but their appearance became scary. They, without exaggeration, from head to toe was dressed in protective suits, gloves, even operating with the glasses on. Someone will say “overkill”, however these people can understand.

On transatlantic flights passengers are usually fed, after all, in the sky, spend about 10 hours. However, on this special flight, not eat anything offered because of the quarantine. There was only bottled water. All passengers in advance and knew the plane gained altitude, something happened that I never in my life will not forget: the cabin of the Boeing was filled with the aromas of homemade sausages, boiled eggs, various meats and fresh cucumbers with tomatoes. Not to say that I was the exception! Laughter laughter, and 10:00 with no food to sustain hard — sandwiches I had with me were also.

Already in new York, all passengers had to fill the so-called Declaration on the right condition. There it was necessary to make your name, home address, contact information and answer several questions, among which were:

  • You visited China in the last 14 days?
  • Were you in the Schengen countries and Iran, Ireland, the UK in the past 14 days?
  • Have you had any in the last 24 hours a fever?
  • Have you had any in the last 24 hours a cough and difficult breathing?

For citizens and permanent residents of the United States was still one more test. They measured the temperature and handing out information leaflets, on which was written that they returned home during a pandemic virus COVID-19 and the United States Department of health encourages them to isolate themselves for 14 days. That’s it — no more checks.

However for us the fun is not over. Still had to drive to Washington. To stay in new York had no desire at all, because on 27 March, only in the metropolis, has been credited with more than 30 000 patients. Local, of course, also scared — when I walked up to the counter to rent a car, the clerk only one of my kind have already begun to shake hands.

New York so empty, quiet and calm I have never in my life seen, although I know this city very well. There usually full of life: noise, every second car honking, people on the streets even at night. And this Friday night in Manhattan usually empty. So new York, I have not seen.

After 5 hours we were already in Washington, and in my head all this time spinning the same thought: what will happen to the world economy, with Ukraine, with the United States, with my family, and how all of us in the coming months due to the isolation not to go crazy and be yourself.

Original published in the blog of Yuri Mammon on “Voice of America”.

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