SEATTLE — Davyd Klimov, 27, proposed to his wife nine days after they met. The couple’s friends and family were a little skeptical of such a short courtship, but he and Natalia didn’t see the point in waiting.
“This was the right place, the right time and the right person — so I just went for it,” Klimov said of their 2020 marriage. “To this day, I have no regrets. This was the right decision. This was probably the best decision I have made in life.”
The COVID-19 pandemic prevented Klimov and Natalia, 23, from hosting a large, traditional wedding. The celebration typically lasts three days in Ukraine. Instead, Klimov and Natalia held a small ceremony with their parents. They spent their honeymoon at a nearby resort, before Klimov returned to Seattle.
The newlyweds knew it could take a while for Natalia to immigrate to the United States. The distance wasn’t ideal, but Natalia and Klimov were in love and willing to wait. They began researching the process last fall.
Then, Russia invaded Ukraine.
Frantically, and from across the globe, Klimov tried to help Natalia flee to neighboring Poland. One immigration attorney said, once Natalia was in Poland, that it would cost up to $3,000 and take a year to bring her to the United States.
“What is this, a different planet?” Klimov said. “Why can’t I get my wife here? I don’t have months. I don’t have days. I don’t have weeks.”
Gregory Lemke, a co-worker and friend of Klimov’s, began contacting United States politicians asking for help. None responded.
“It’s so confusing, and convoluted and everybody is looking for a buck,” Lemke said.
President Joe Biden announced Thursday that the United States will accept up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees. In the past month, however, more than 3.5 million people have fled Ukraine to neighboring countries like Poland and Romania. Another 6.5 million people have been displaced inside Ukraine.
Klimov is a permanent U.S. resident and has lived in Washington since 2017. He wants to bring his wife here, but worries about the gap of time between leaving Ukraine and reaching Washington.
“Even if I am able to get her to Poland, she’s going to be stuck,” Klimov said. “They’re not able to go back, because there is nowhere to go back to, and she can’t come here because there is no official way of getting her here. So to just go to Poland, not knowing what’s waiting for you tomorrow, it’s not exactly an option.”
Van Dinh-Kuno, executive director of Refugee & Immigrant Services Northwest, said the Snohomish County organization is hearing stories similar to Klimov’s. One of the most common questions people ask is how long it will take to bring their family member to the United States. It varies, but Dinh-Kuno said the best thing people can do to speed the process is make sure they have the necessary paperwork.
Natalia can’t move forward, however, until she leaves Ukraine. In the meantime, she and Klimov try to speak every day.
The phone calls depend on an internet connection, though, and Natalia couldn’t call much when the bombings began. Natalia was with her family in Kherson, a Russian-controlled province in southern Ukraine that borders Crimea.
Natalia escaped the occupied war zone, but her parents and grandmother are still in Kherson. Natalia said she may return, because her parents refuse to leave. Her grandmother can no longer walk, and driving out isn’t an option.
“They just shoot them up as soon as they see vehicles leave,” Klimov said. “People can only evacuate from the village on foot through the forest, but it’s only a 50-50 chance. If there are Russians in the area, you never know if they’re going to be able to get to safety in time.”
Natalia is now with her sister, who is eight months pregnant, and caring for her 3-year-old nephew.
Klimov was saving money to help Natalia move to Poland, but as the invasion continues, helping people escape has become more expensive. Klimov said he feels powerless to help and is angry with himself.
“I’m reaching a dead end no matter where I try to go,” Klimov said.
Katie Hayes is a Report for America corps member and writes about issues that affect the working class for The Daily Herald.