How a boy who immigrated from Kherson predicted the war that began 20 years later
ForumDaily has written more than once about the difficulties that modern refugees face. immigration prisons, uncertainty about the future, long years of waiting consideration of their case for Russians or temporary protected status without access to a green card for Ukrainians have become natural realities today for many people fleeing persecution or war in the United States. However, this was not always the case. Old-time immigrants who left the Soviet Union remember well: when they left, they lost everything: from property to citizenship. Most of them were sure that they would never be able to return to their homeland, but in the United States they immediately expected a reliable status, a "refugee passport" and social benefits.
Even more fortunate were those who traveled on specialized programs after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Note: we are not talking about people who invented non-existent cases of persecution for themselves. The point here was that, due to the inertia and inertia of the American legal system, immigration programs adopted during the Cold War continued to operate after its end.
They were popularly called "Jewish" and "religious" immigration. To obtain refugee status in the 1990s, it was enough just to indicate that one of the members of the departing family was persecuted in the Soviet Union either for religious beliefs or as part of the anti-Semitism policy pursued at the state level. This fact alone was enough for the whole family to leave as refugees even in relatively calm years.
Immigrants themselves recall that in practice they often did not even have to prove anything when they left the already free Russia or Ukraine. They automatically received refugee status, which did not prevent them from traveling regularly to their homeland. Sometimes there were literally anecdotal cases. For example, one person who began attending a Protestant church in Russia only in the 1990s admitted to me that during an interview at the American consulate he told me that he tried to preach when he served in the Soviet army, for which he was repeatedly beaten. As an example of his army sermon, the unfortunate refugee quoted the words of the pastor, which he heard the next Sunday. This alone was enough for him to get the coveted status.
"Jewish underground" in Kherson
Sometimes there were even more amusing stories. For example, one boy named Semyon (name changed) left with his family for America from the Ukrainian city of Kherson in the 1990s, when he was not yet ten years old. The family received refugee status due to the anti-Semitic persecution that its older members were subjected to in Soviet times, but young Senya no longer found any persecution in his lifetime. When he told his classmates that he was a refugee, they reasonably asked what exactly he was fleeing from.
Not wanting to seem like a liar, the boy began to convulsively recall what episodes from his short life so far can be regarded as persecution. At that moment, the only thing that came to his mind was boyish fights in the yard. It must be admitted that they were sometimes quite brutal: the boys got into gangs and fought each other in the labyrinths of the old city or on its outskirts.
Of course, Semyon had to embellish his childhood memories somewhat, and soon the yard brawls turned into a courageous battle of the members of the "Jewish underground" against the anti-Semitic police. Classmates, with bated breath, listened to incredible stories about the heroes who fearlessly fought in the Kherson courtyards. Carried away by his fantasies and the popularity that suddenly fell upon him at school, Semyon, meanwhile, went further and eventually began to collect money from his classmates "to help the Ukrainian Jewish underground."
From game to war
The participant of those events himself admits that he managed to save up from his fees for a bicycle. It is not known what the “help to the underground” would have resulted in in the future, however, rumors about the “underground hero” soon reached the teachers, and then the parents. Semyon's family listened with surprise and horror to the stories of teachers about the heroic struggle of their son in the "Kherson resistance". By that time, the stories of the young dreamer had already transformed from banal fights to real hostilities, during which tanks walked through the streets, and mortar attacks were fired from the windows.
Sema admits that despite the strict American rules prohibiting child abuse, after this story, he was really whipped at home. Parents explained to the resourceful tomboy for life that war and repression are the most terrible tragedies of mankind, and to invent them for the purpose of profit is not only fraud, but also blasphemy.
Almost twenty years have passed since then. Now, when tanks really walk the streets of Kherson, and the city itself has recently been under occupation, Sema's childhood fantasies have come true in an amazing way. Even the myth of Jewish resistance turned out to be not so far-fetched. For example, known Jewish mission, purposefully engaged in the evacuation of people from the combat zone, including from the most inaccessible places - in the blockade or under constant bombardment. In the first months of the war, employees of the organization often came under fire, but sometimes even bedridden patients were taken out of the zone of occupation.
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Semyon says: as an adult, he has repeatedly visited his historical homeland. Now he was personally involved in helping refugees, and to this day he donates large sums for the Ukrainian army. In private conversations, Sema admits:
«It may be considered superstition, but it seems to me that with my stupid fantasies I seemed to invite this war. At least I feel responsible for what is happening now».
The possibility of leaving for the United States on the so-called “Jewish immigration” ceased with the repeal of the Jackson-Vanik amendment in 2006 for Ukraine and in 2012 for Russia. However, the story of Sema and his family serves as a wonderful reminder of peaceful times, when immigration was only a convenient opportunity to improve one's life, and war existed only in children's fantasies. Now it is difficult to imagine whether such times will ever come again, but in spite of everything, one would like to hope for it.
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