Ukrainian enroute to pick up fleeing his refugee family

Ukrainian enroute to pick up fleeing his refugee family   By LAURA QUEZADA

News Review Staff Writer

Ukrainian refugee, Denys Kobzan, is in Ridgecrest temporarily as he awaits the go ahead to pick up his in-laws from the Mexican border. He is staying as a guest of Dr. Daniel Mallory whom he met through the website: https://www.ukrainetakeshelter.com/ an independent site helping to connect Ukrainian refugees with potential hosts and housing. “He has provided me this stay for free because he is trying to help Ukraine as much as he can. There are actually a lot of listings in all parts of the United States; people host Ukrainians from California to Washington, DC to Maine to Florida. We’ve been getting really great support from the United States.”

Kobzan lived most of his life in Kharkiv, Ukraine, about 20 miles from the Russian border. After the Russo-Ukrainian War broke out in 2014 he and his wife left. “I had to move to United States with my wife, but I still had my friends and family. My family and my wife’s family stayed in Ukraine, and they’ve been staying there all this time until now.”

He didn’t have a lot of employment options, so he started fixing electronics and opened his own business, Mr. Fix Cellphone and Computer Repair. He now has four shops and employs ten people. His assistant, Dima, is in Ukraine and works remotely. Dima is also from Kharkiv but when hostilities broke out, he moved his family and is now close to the Moldova border. His daughter was born a week after the bombing began so it has been quite a stressful time for him.

Although the war started in 2014 it had stayed in one region. “Everybody was aware that there were a lot of troops on the border. But still, nobody believed that it could be even possible that the Kremlin would start bombing. So when that happened on February 24, everybody was shocked and then everybody started hiding in shelters, including my family and my wife’s family as well. Nobody knew how much longer it would take.

At that time, the plan was just to hide in the shelter for a couple days. Everybody thought maybe it will stop soon. That was the hope.” After about ten days it became obvious that it was getting worse. “On March 3, which was my birthday, my family and my wife’s family made a decision to leave the city because it wasn’t even safe to stay in the shelter.” The bombs were huge - destroying houses, concrete and leveling everything to the ground.

They went to Lviv in the western part of Ukraine which is better. However, there are sirens a few times per day. “There is some bombardment here and there but it’s not as bad as it used to be in Kharkiv because pretty much most of the people already left.

I think roughly between 10 and 20% of population still stayed. Usually when people decide to stay it’s two options. First, because they have nowhere to go and they have nobody who can host them. Second, they have relatives who cannot leave because they are 80 or 90 years old. In some cases people have to leave their parents and grandparents because they had to save their kids.”

Right now his wife’s grandmother is staying in Kharkiv. “For now she’s still good. It’s like playing the lottery really, because you don’t know what is going to happen the next minute. There is not much information coming from inside the cities because it is not safe to go outside to check to see if the house is still there.” His parents are staying because his father is under 60 years old. “If you are below 60 you could serve in the army, you cannot leave if you are male.”

His in-laws were able to leave Ukraine because the father has serious health issues. “They gave him all the paperwork. Now (Wednesday) they’re currently located in Mexico and they are planning to cross the border tomorrow.” He describes their journey, “They left Kharkiv and went to Lviv region which is about roughly 1500 miles away, they took two or three trains to get to Budapest in Hungary. From there they flew from Budapest to Heathrow Airport in London. They flew from London to Mexico City. Today they have a connection flight and tomorrow they fly in from Mexico City to Mexicali.” Kobzan will pick them up on the U.S. side of the border. “Hopefully everything will work out.”

Kobzan and his wife haven’t been able to visit their family in Ukraine for the past seven years. “We are still waiting on our documents and still waiting to be called for the interview. It took us seven years. We were not able to leave the country for the seven years.”

Kobzan’s command of the English language is impressive. He studied in school in Ukraine and continues to work on it. Since he lived so close to the Russian border, he speaks Ukrainian and Russian. He has disdain for Putin’s assertion that Ukrainians are harassing Russians due to the language they speak. “ I’ve been speaking Russian language all my life. That is just the propaganda that he is making; he wants people to believe because without support from Russians, he would fail.

It’s super important for Ukraine to resist and stop this as soon as possible,” says Kobzan, “because the whole world will benefit - what is in Ukraine today can tomorrow be in Poland or who knows where else.

From day one I started asking myself, ‘How can I help?’ I started giving my own money; once your funds are gone, you ask yourself, ‘Where else you can get money?’ That’s when I began collaborating with Ukrainian designers.” The results are T-shirts saying “I stand with Ukraine.” “We send all the proceeds to Ukraine. We help with basic needs and right now there are some fancy tools for firefighters to help them to fight more efficiently.”

Red Rock Books will be carrying the T-shirts and pre-ordering would be helpful. He, his wife and his sister print them in their basement using a hot press. They are keeping the production costs down so there is more to donate. In the future T-shirts will be available on their website: https://pay.tomorrowukraine.org

Laura Austin Photo: Denys Kobzan shelters in Ridgecrest as he completes his travel plans.

Story First Published: 2022-04-22