Local park employee endures uncertainty in quest to get Ukraine family to safety

by Trish Rudder

Veronika (Nika) McCann has been living what she calls “a nightmare” since the Russians invaded Ukraine.

Ukrainian born, McCann, 28, works at Cacapon State Park.  She came to the U.S. on a work visa and is married and living in Martinsburg with her husband and two children.

Her parents and two sisters were living in the Hostomel, Irpin area about six miles from Kyiv when the bombings began in Ukraine on February 24 at 4 a.m.

She said her family stayed in their apartment that first day. Then they fled their home, taking only their documents, to a shelter.

McCann’s mother, Oksana; sister Masha, 19 and sister Anya, 11 along with Anya’s kitty, which was a birthday present, stayed in the shelter she said.

Their father, who is not 60 years old provided outside protection to the shelter.

After one week in the shelter, they traveled to Lviv, the western border to Poland.

Veronika McCann’s mother and sisters crossed the Ukrainian border into Poland on March 8.

What is normally about an eight-hour drive to get to Lviv, McCann, said it took two days to drive to the western border, and only traveling during daylight hours to stay safe.

McCann said her father’s job is to provide security to others since he cannot leave Ukraine. He has a minivan and provides a shuttle service to those who need to get to the Polish border. He cannot leave Ukraine because males from 18 to 60 must stay and fight the Russian invasion, she said.

Her mother and sisters arrived in Poland on March 8 and were living in an apartment belonging to one of the volunteers in Krakow.

When her mother and sisters traveled to the Immigration Office in Warsaw to get tourist visas to come to the United States, Masha was denied the tourist visa without a satisfactory explanation, McCann said last week. Of course, McCann’s mother could not leave Masha in Poland, so they had to find another way.

Finding an answer

“I am a creative person,” McCann said on Monday.

Veronika McCann, local park worker, and her daughter.

McCann said she knew about Ukrainians traveling to Mexico through humanitarian parole. She got Masha on a flight from Poland to Mexico last week. McCann and her husband and infant son traveled to Tijuana and waited for Masha to be processed into the United States.

McCann said Masha is safely with her, and they are traveling back to West Virginia, but she is shaken.

Her mother and Anya are waiting in Poland for their passports to be processed before they can come to the United States.

As soon as her father is allowed to travel, McCann will make arrangements to get him here to be with his family. He is working in Lviv with the volunteers and she talked with him recently.

McCann said she has been getting assistance from U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito’s office.

“She has been a big help,” she said.

McCann applied for a U.S. citizenship in May, 2020, but it has not yet been processed and she is working with Capito’s office to get in finalized.

“I want to vote, to participate,” she said.

“I live in this country, I pay my taxes and I want to be able to have my voice counted,” McCann said Monday.

There is fear and uncertainty about her family still in Ukraine.

McCann has a huge family in Ukraine.

“Two cousins are actively fighting,” she said. A cousin lost part of his leg from the Russian invasion in 2014, she said.

McCann’s paternal grandfather that she is close to is over 80 years old. He and her grandmother lives in the outskirts of Kyiv.

“Their neighbors bring them food,” she said last week.

But her mother’s sisters and family are shuttled together in Energodar that is still occupied by Russian soldiers, she said on Monday.

People are helping

People have responded to McCann. She recently established a GoFundMe page on Facebook that will help defray the costs of getting her family out of harm’s way.  Her new family here has also been working to get her help and connections to those who can see her family to safety.