My name is Svetlana. I am from Kyiv .

I want to say right away that on February 24, 2022, at 5 o’clock in the morning, WAR came to Ukraine. This is not a “rescue operation”, this is a real cruel, brutal war to destroy the country and people of Ukraine.

For parents, of course, the first instinct in such a situation is how to save the most valued thing – their children.

And us, my 15-year-old son and I decided to start a long journey, which we would never have decided to do during peaceful time.

We bought tickets Vienna – Paris – Mexico City – Tijuana.

After buying tickets, we electronically filled out a travel document (tourist visa to Mexico). We had to book a hotel for a couple days in Tijuana as it’s a necessity. We booked a hotel for 5 days and carried the address of the hotel with us.

On the plane to Tijuana, we were given special forms that also needed to be filled out. Upon arrival at the exit, we were asked for these documents and the address of the hotel where we should stay.

After a day of resting, in the morning  at around 10:00 (just as reporters arrive at 9:00), we took the most necessary things and drove to the border from San Diego at the San Isidra crosswalk. There were a lot of people, but the line moved quickly. Within 30 minutes we were already near the tent, seeing Ukrainian passports, the customs officers took us aside. There were people sitting there for several hours already (Russia, Moldova, Armenia and Ukraine). But here a big role is played by reporters who do their job perfectly. Seeing people with Ukrainian passports, they draw the attention of customs officers. And we were allowed to pass.

After a thorough search of us and our belongings, we moved on to the US screening point.

After that, the most interesting process begins. And I couldn’t  even imagine this.

Officers checked our belongings. And what surprised me the most is that all my valuables and savings that I had with me remained safe. And most importantly, that they allowed us to keep our jackets.

After we passed all the inspections, we were taken to the temporary cells.

It turns out that it’s like in a real prison: hands behind the back, following each other one by one, and the officer takes us to the cells. Me in the cell for women of 18 years and older, and my son, 15 years old, for teenagers.

Entering the cell, I saw this picture: people are on the floor, sleeping on the mats, there are people wrapped in “foil”.  But this is normal, they are all the same as me, who illegally crossed the border, they are resting. In the cell we are all together Russians, Ukrainians, Armenians.

The conditions are difficult: ventilation is very strong, it is cold. Therefore, I am grateful that the inspector who led us allowed us to keep our jackets, because other inspectors brought people in T-shirts and they froze for some time until they were interrogated to take their warm clothes, which were handed over with personal belongings. Everything is metal, there are benches on both sides and VERY loudly descending toilet bowls, the floor is concrete, a constantly bright, cold light is on, there are no windows. Completely lost in time. Everyone receives  a mat and a “blanket” made of foil. You can stay here in different ways from 4 to 18 days (this is what I saw). It’s hard both mentally and physically.

While the person is in the cell, he or she will be called for an interview. At the interview, you must answer a few questions about yourself and be sure to know information about your sponsor (address, phone number).

 And then they transfer a person to a prison, it can be in a completely different state. Conditions are a little better there. They say that after there is a second interview, and then a court (this is from the words of “experts”). There is an advantage for those who have a family with a minor child. In this case, 2-3 days and if everything is okay with the documents, then they are sent to the sponsor to wait for the court.

 On the second day, our nightmare ended (reason: minor son). And now we are waiting for an invitation to the court staying with the sponsor.

“I wish everyone who wants to come to America good luck, have patience, and to be strong!”

Svetlana, Ukrainian Refugee