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My name is Kameran, and this is my story. I was born 21 years ago in Ukraine, in Crimea. My mother was an Orthodox Ukrainian Christian and my father was a Tatar Muslim. When I was 13, I remember Russia invading and annexing my home state. It was a scary time – I didn’t understand what was happening, only that the world around me was changing, and my parents suddenly would have tight smiles on their faces when they came home from work.
Around this time, I started writing stories. I didn’t know much about America, only what I had seen on TV shows and in movies, but it seemed a magical place, where everyone was happy and life was easy. I was a child, but in my childish dreams, I looked at this country and wished I could be here. It represented everything that my homeland was not. In my stories, I would come to America across the sea, find a big house, just like on TV, have my own directing studio, and make my own movies. I wanted to use my voice to help others dream, especially other little girls like me. And I would have so much fun – I even had a crush on Big Time Rush, and I would pretend that they would come to my studio and I could listen to their music and then eat burgers and steaks with them on my sunny outdoor patio.
But the world was not as bright and sunny as my stories, and soon my family sent me off alone to Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, to finish my high school studies. I did well in school, but as I grew older that started to be less of a good thing. For instance, I had a history class at my first university, where I studied psychology for 2 years, and everyone there rumored that the teacher was sexist. The older girls told me to just be quiet and not say anything in his class, but I wanted to try the boundaries. One day, after class, I got into a discussion with the teacher. I don’t remember what it was over, but as it went on longer and longer, he started to turn red in the face, and eventually he just shouted: “You’re a woman! What can you know?” before storming off.
It wasn’t limited to just my teachers either. One time I had to ask my counselor for my class transcripts. I showed up at the appointment, and after she had eyed me up and down she said that she had to go to lunch, and snidely remarked that I should have picked a better time. I couldn’t do anything until I had my paperwork, so I just had to sit there for two hours until she came back. When she finally open the door, she went to the archive with all the documents for a couple minutes and then said that administration had lost my transcripts, and I couldn’t have them. I was stunned for a little bit – thankfully, she kicked me out before I started crying. But I had to call the dean and raise a fit for over 4 hours before, finally, magically, the transcripts were ‘rediscovered.’
It was frustrating. I didn’t have anywhere to turn, and I felt powerless. But I gritted my teeth and kept on with my studies. One day, I dared to dream, I would be sitting in a doctor’s chair, much like the teachers in front of me — maybe even transmitting my love for biology to a class of my own. Not, as I was starting to realize from the men around me, because I wanted a comfortable salary and secure job, but because I truly loved the people around me, and wanted to use my talents to help inspire and raise them up. And, slowly, day by day, I was moving closer to that goal. I got accepted into a good Medical University, and I moved to Dnipro to start my studies there.
And then tragedy struck. On February 24, 2022, my world was turned upside down. Bombs began to fall. For weeks I would sleep underground in bunkers with scared children and stressed adults. I didn’t know what to do. I began to pray, asking God to help me and give me guidance. From Dnipro I went to Lviv by train and spent 2 weeks volunteering there. Then I decided to go to Romania, because I still had my online studying that time, and it was hard to do it in a bomb shelter. On the border I realized that only me from the whole group knew English, so I became a leader, and we have come a long way, sleeping on the floor and in hostels, until we met wonderful people who gave us shelter. Vasile — one of the volunteers in Romania, with his friends, helped me get back up on my feet while I was there, and made sure that I had a stable place to stay while I figured out what my life would be like from thereon out. That time Mihaela Mitrofan from Samaritas came to Romania and after to Ukraine, to bring people humanitarian aid. I’ve met her in the “House of Hope”, where I stayed for 2 months, and we recorded the video with me to share my story and asked American people to donate for Ukraine. Mihaela left.
One day, a few weeks in, as I was starting to get settled into my new life, Vasile asked me if I wanted to study in America. I laughed— it was a great joke, after all. What, me, a random Ukrainian girl from the Crimea? The thought of it was absurd, surreal even. And besides, even if it weren’t a joke, where would all that money come from? I had lived alone since I was 16, and I knew that all the dreams in the world wouldn’t pay the bills or put food on the table.
After two months in Romania, I ended up leaving for Bulgaria, where I started to rent a small apartment. But I wasn’t there long before Vasile contacted me again, asking me if I wanted to study in America, and this time I started to realize he was serious. Obviously for you, I answered yes. However, I was scared, and I prayed to God to ask him for guidance again. At that moment, Vasile sent me a message that Mihaela found a church. They planned a Zoom call for me to meet Christ Church Cranbrook, and as the day drew closer the knot in my stomach grew tighter and tighter. What was I supposed to say? How could I even begin to express what I was feeling, let alone the situation I had found myself in as my life was upturned?
And then, the day arrived. I clicked on my computer and got onto Zoom, where I met Father Bill’s smiling face for the first time. And, instantly, all my anxieties melted away. It was, without a doubt, one of the most pleasant conversations of my life. Father was incredibly amiable and charismatic, and he went out of his way to make sure that I felt comfortable the whole time, asking me about my sister and family, hearing my story, and then finally asking if I needed a new home, here, in America.
The call finally ended, and the same thoughts as before flashed through my mind: what, me, a random Ukrainian girl from the Crimea? But this time, when I laughed it felt like I was floating on clouds. America! The word was just as absurd as before, but now the absurdity was tinged with something else, something that I hadn’t felt in a long time: hope.
I went back to Romania, waiting for more details to be finalized. Vasile graciously let me live with his family at his house. One month dragged out to two, but I barely even noticed. All I could think of now was the future that seemed to be looming ever-larger and ever-closer in my mind. I wondered what America would be like. Would they think I was weird, me with my long hair and European dress? I looked forward to making friends, too, but I wondered what we would talk about by day and giggle about by night. The future was bright, and it almost seemed to blind me.
Christ Church Cranbrook reached out to me again, and we scheduled a second Zoom call. I met Seba, who selflessly offered me her home to stay in while I was getting established in the country and waiting for my dorm. We set a date and bought tickets. Now, it was just a matter of waiting.
Before I knew it the day had arrived. I stepped on the plane in one world and stepped off in another: America!
I almost couldn’t believe it; all I could do was fall to my knees and kiss the earth, feeling a mix of feelings I had never felt before. Exhaustion, surely, but also a heartfelt gratitude. My prayers had finally been answered. I had a wonderful time at Seba’s house, her children were kind to me, and all of them were trying to make my first month here as easier as possible.
I am grateful beyond words for what Christ Church Cranbrook has made possible for me, and for the gratuitous and generous response you, each member of the church, has personally and individually made for me— whether it’s through your prayers, your kind words, your financial support, or even your welcoming smile every time I saw you. I truly have learned to see the image of God in each of you, and I pray that God can give me the strength to offer in turn what I can of my own life to help others like how you’ve helped me. My thoughts and prayers go up with each of yours. Thank you, and may you be generously rewarded by God for the generosity you’ve shown me.