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The mission is almost impossible: as an immigrant tried to return from Ukraine to the USA during world quarantine

Yuri Mamon, a Ukrainian living in the USA, in his blog for Voice of America spoke about how he was returning from Ukraine to Washington during the coronavirus pandemic and the closure of borders between states. Next - First-Person Perspective.

Photo: shutterstock

I flew to Kiev in early March. Then in the USA they talked only about isolated cases of coronavirus infections, and in Ukraine they only heard about a terrible disease on TV. However, within a few days the first case was recorded, then the second - and the Ukrainian government suddenly closes the borders.

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I had a return ticket to the USA on March 25th. First I received an email from the airline stating that my flight was postponed to April 9, and soon it was canceled. Events unfolded very quickly, every day in Ukraine a new case of COVID-19 was recorded, and in the USA, tens of thousands went already ...

The fourteen-day quarantine in Ukraine was supposed to end on April 3. It seemed to me that everything would pass ... the borders would open, and I would fly back to Washington. I live there, work there, my personal belongings - I can’t stay in Ukraine for long. However, on March 25 it was reported that the Ukrainian government was prolonging quarantine - this time until the end of April. It became clear: this is only the beginning, and the sky is unlikely to open soon, the epidemic is just beginning. We must leave as soon as possible. But how? Air traffic canceled!

Through the US Embassies in Ukraine and Ukraine in the US, I learned about special flights of the UIA (Ukraine International Airlines), organized for citizens of Ukraine and the United States who are ready to return home. Departure from Kiev, from Boryspil airport - arrival at JFK airport in New York, where the pandemic has already reached extreme proportions.

To say that I was scared to fly to New York is to say nothing. Imagine: flying to an airport through which tens of thousands of coronavirus infected have potentially passed. However, there was no particular choice: there was only one flight — either now or perhaps even in six months you will not fly.

The first such flight was scheduled for March 25. I tried to buy a ticket for him on the 23rd. There are few places left, so tickets cost a lot: 50 hryvnias (about $ 000) for one one way. And I am with my wife. The next day, another flight was announced on March 2, the route is the same, only there tickets could already be found at half the price - 000 hryvnias (about $ 27). However, it is still expensive. Here, too, a letter came from the US Embassy in Ukraine:

“If you need to leave Ukraine now or you assume that you will need to fly out soon, we recommend that you consider the possibility of booking this flight. This may be your last opportunity in the near future. ”

The decision was made: fly! Scary? Not that word. And today I do not stop thinking: why were the tickets for such a flight so expensive if the flight was not commercial and the plane was at least 80 percent full.

First I will need to get to Kiev. By that time I was in Kharkov. Intercity trains / buses in Ukraine did not go anymore and it was almost impossible to get from Kharkov to Kiev without their own car. There is no other option than BlaBlaCar. In Kharkov, by the way, at the end of March public transport was already limited, small businesses were closed, only a few people were allowed into supermarkets, and most of the people in the streets were already masked. At the same time, few people kept their distance, it was especially felt in pharmacies, or in the same supermarkets - they actually breathed in the back behind you. Although I note that not all behaved this way.

BlaBlaCar from Kharkov to Kiev cost 800 hryvnias (about $ 30) for two - the price is adequate, since a ticket for a express train costs about the same. Driver: an educated, intelligent young man, and at first glance it seemed that he was living a carefree life, he never knew grief. But later it turned out that everything was completely wrong. The night route Kharkov - Kiev and two strangers in his car, whom he is unlikely to ever see, so that the atmosphere itself seemed to prompt him to a frank conversation. As it turned out, he is a migrant from the Donbass.

In 2014 he studied at the University in Donetsk. After the outbreak of the war, he immediately transferred to Kharkov to complete his studies. After receiving his diploma, the guy moved to Kiev, found a job in a government agency, worked desperately, because he knew: no one would help him, because his parents remained in occupied Donetsk - now he is helping them. And then one day he went to visit his mom and dad. At the DPR checkpoint, he was handcuffed and imprisoned for 15 months (until the circumstances were clarified). He says they were pressured psychologically: why didn't you defend Donbass? Why does he work in the state structure of Ukraine? They were charged with treason, espionage and so on. At that time he was 23.

He was on the exchange lists, but everything was constantly disrupted, parental programs did not reach. It seemed that life was broken: he is young and sits behind bars in the territory where the one who has the machine gun in his hands is stronger. There he was once told: "The main thing in prison is not to go cuckoo and remain yourself." And for himself, being in a closed space, he realized: you need to live for today, get emotions, because emotions and memories are what gave him the strength to live on and wait for the day when it all ends.

Fifteen months passed, and as unexpectedly as he was imprisoned, he was released. He returned to Kiev, restored to work, lives his own life, only he no longer visits his parents. The guy tells few stories about his life. Now he recalls all this in jest: at least, he says that now he is not afraid of self-isolation in connection with the spread of coronavirus.

Boryspil airport, despite the fact that it was officially closed, on March 27 continued to receive and send planes. Several flights were scheduled that day, including mine to New York. There were many travelers in Terminal F.

In Ukraine, few people observe the rules of social distance; everyone wears masks and believes that this is enough. The Americans act differently: they may not wear a mask, but they will keep a social distance, and this was immediately felt in the line when boarding a plane to New York - the distance between people was at least 1 meter.

Do you know this pleasant moment when you board a plane and you are greeted by pretty, polite and neatly dressed stewardesses? So, on this flight, everything looked radically different: the flight attendants were polite, of course, but their appearance became creepy. They are, without exaggeration, from head to toe wearing protective suits, gloves, and even wearing operating glasses. Someone would say “bust”, but these people could be understood.

On transatlantic flights, passengers are usually fed, because you spend about 10 hours in the sky. However, on this special flight, they didn’t offer anything because of quarantine. There was only bottled water. All passengers knew about this in advance. But as soon as the plane gained altitude, something that I would never forget in my life happened: the Boeing salon was filled with the aromas of home-made sausages, boiled eggs, various smoked meats and fresh cucumbers with tomatoes. I will not say that I was an exception! Laughter, laughter, but 10 hours without food is hard to endure - I also had sandwiches with me.

Already in New York, all passengers had to fill out the so-called declaration for health reasons. There it was necessary to enter your name, home address, contact information and answer several questions, among which were:

  • Have you visited China in the last 14 days?
  • Have you been in the countries of the Schengen area, as well as in Iran, Ireland, Great Britain over the past 14 days?
  • Have you had a fever in the last 24 hours?
  • Have you had cough and labored breathing in the last 24 hours?

Citizens and permanent residents of the United States had yet another additional check. They were measured temperature and handed out information leaflets on which it was written that they returned home during the COVID-19 virus pandemic and the US Department of Health recommends that they self-insulate for 14 days. That's all - no more checks.

However, for us the adventure did not end there. It was still necessary to get to Washington. There was no desire to stay in New York, because on March 27 there were more than 30 patients in the metropolis alone. The locals, of course, are also scared - when I went to the counter to rent a car, my clerk only started shaking hands from just one of my kind.

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New York itself has never been seen in my life so empty, quiet and calm, although I know this city very, very well. Life usually boils there: noise and din, cars honk every second, people on the streets even at night. And this Friday night in Manhattan is unusually empty. So I saw New York for the first time.

After 5 hours, we were already in Washington, and I had the same thought in my head all this time: what will happen next with the world economy, with Ukraine, with the USA, with my relatives, and how will we all in the coming months for self-isolation do not go crazy and remain yourself.

Original blog post Yuri Mamon at the Voice of America.

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