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“We are stranded at the airport, we were not allowed to board our flight, we have nowhere to go.”

Today’s story is about a family from Kherson - Mom Lena, Dad Victor and their three sons – Daniel, Dennis and Egor. Egor, the baby of the family, suffers from several serious medical conditions and has to use a wheelchair to get around. He is only nine but has already been through 16 surgeries. Back in the spring when fighting came too close to Lena and Victor’s house, volunteers helped Lena and kids leave occupied Kherson for Poland; from there they traveled on to Turkey to reunite with family.

Back in May little information was available on benefits for refugees; and it was only once they reached Turkey that Lena found out that she didn’t qualify for a work permit, no aid was available and there was only very basic health insurance. All meanwhile Egor continued to need ongoing medical attention and all four of them needed food and shelter. It seemed that building a life for themselves in Turkey would be nearly impossible under such conditions. A few months after, once Victor was able to finally join his wife and kids, the couple decided it would make more sense to resettle elsewhere. Lena and Victor started saving and eventually had enough to buy air tickets to Norway where Lena’s brother and his family were already waiting for them.

To make sure they would have no problems leaving Turkey Lena repeatedly called Ukrainian consulate to confirm that no additional visas were necessary. She was assured time and time again that no exit visas were required.

Let’s fast-forward to the morning of the flight. All five of them get to Istanbul airport – Mom, Dad, older kids Daniel and Dennis and of course, the youngest Egor in his wheelchair. That’s when the clerk informs Lena that only two older kids - the ones who hold biometric passports - can get on-board, while the rest of them will not be allowed to leave Turkey until…. they can show proof of their exit visas. Visa application is a drawn-out process and can not be expedited or completed at the airport. Bewildered family remains standing at the gate only to watch in the state of disbelief and shock, as the plane takes off without them. Lena tells in her own words what happened then –

“I was running all over the airport trying to find someone who can help. My husband was saying – that’s it the plane has taken off, why are you still running around. But I was holding on to hope, thinking that may be there is still a chance, may be they’ll feel bad for us and will put us on the next flight. I didn’t know what to do. The reason I was feeling so panicked is because we’ve spent the last of our money on those tickets. We have also closed out our temporary residence status in Turkey. We could stay there legally only for another seven days. So on one hand Turkey was not letting us out, but at the same time we were only allowed to stay there for another seven days. Catch-22.”

That was when a volunteer put panicked Lena in touch with Rubikus volunteers who immediately sprung into action. They promptly launched a fundraising campaign to raise funds that would allow this family travel to their chosen destination in Norway. They designed an intricate itinerary that would take these tired, but determined travelers first to Georgia, then on to Poland and from there finally to Bergen, Norway.

Once travelers safely crossed the border into Georgia Rubikus volunteers met them in every town they reached, helped them with housing for the night, and made sure they successfully boarded their next flight - first from Tbilisi to Gdansk, Poland and from Gdansk finally on to Bergen, Norway. Here again in Lena’s own words -

“They [Rubikus volunteers] simply told me –Lena, don’t worry. Focus on getting yourself, kids and your husband healthy. [All four of them have developed a fever after they were not allowed to leave Turkey]. Just let it all go, leave it to us and we will take care of everything. We took on your case, we will do our best and we will help you get to Norway.”

Rubikus volunteers held on to their promise and the family is now safe in Norway. Currently immigration services are looking for an apartment for them that would accommodate Egor’s wheelchair. Under Norwegian law all kids - be it in a wheelchair or not - should be able to move around, go to school and play with other kids. When we were chatting Lena had nothing, but words of gratitude for all of the Rubikus volunteers who came to their aid when she has almost lost all hope. Let’s wish this family the best of luck and only the most exciting and fun adventures from now on.

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Stories of the refugee families