Ukraine problems felt locally

The good news: Taylor Smetska and her infant daughter have arrived in America safely after their flight from the turmoil engulfing Ukraine.

The bad news: Taylor and 3-month-old Evelyn did so after leaving behind the third member of their family – husband and father, Kostya.

Taylor, a Jamestown native and January 2012 graduate of JHS, and baby Evelyn arrived at the Buffalo airport at approximately midnight Tuesday, less than one week after being told by the U.S. Embassy in Simferopol – the Smetska’s city of residence – that it was no longer safe for them to remain in Ukraine. Taylor said she had been living in Simferopol on a temporary residency visa since last March, and had never had contact with the embassy prior to last week.

“I was shocked because they’d never called me before,” Taylor said.

“At first, I didn’t realize what was happening. I was extremely emotional, and couldn’t believe what was going on.”

As Taylor and Evelyn departed, Kostya was forced to remain behind in his native country because he has thus far been unable to obtain a tourism visa to enter the U.S. – having been denied twice before.

Taylor and Kostya were married in June 2012. They had first met in January 2011, when Taylor accompanied her mother, Summer Spitz, to Ukraine to pick up Spitz’s adopted Ukrainian daughter, Lyla. After their initial meeting, Taylor said she and Kostya became fast friends and she made return visits to be with him every few months.

Though Taylor and her mother have made multiple trips to visit with Kostya, he himself has never had the opportunity to visit America as a result of his visa denials. Taylor said this is because the U.S. Embassy harbors doubts that Kostya would return to the Ukraine because of his marriage to Taylor.

Despite the difficulties in getting a visa for Kostya, Taylor said the embassy wasted no time in issuing a passport for Evelyn. She said the process was expedited to the point where she received Evelyn’s passport within a day, and she was not even required to have all of her paperwork on hand in order to process her flight from Simferopol.

“That was crazy, because the actual passport process takes up to three weeks. And they told me I didn’t even need all my documents,” she said. “It was really good, and I’m proud that they don’t mess around and they take care of people when there’s a dangerous situation going on.”

If there was a silver lining to be found in the return of Taylor to her family in Jamestown, it’s that Spitz had an opportunity to meet her granddaughter for the first time; but the reunion was a bittersweet one.

“We love having (Taylor and Evelyn),” Spitz said. “And seeing them walk toward us knowing that they were finally safe, we couldn’t have asked for anything more at that point in time. But that feeling only lasted for a second, because then we could see (Taylor) was bawling because she had to leave her husband. So, we still couldn’t be excited because our hearts were breaking over what Taylor and Kostya have had to go through. It still makes me sick to my stomach that they had to say goodbye.”

Taylor said she has been in contact with the offices of Congressman Tom Reed, R-Corning, and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., about the possibility of obtaining a visa for Kostya, however, she said things haven’t been looking promising.

“There’s been a loss of communication with Tom Reed’s office over the last couple days,” she said. “But I did speak with a representative from Sen. Schumer’s office, and she didn’t sound very confident at all that (Kostya) could come any time soon. She said the only way we would be able to get him here is if we applied for immigration. And she said they could try to expedite that, but it would still take months – which is irrelevant when the country is in turmoil.”

On the other side of the coin, there is a possibility that Taylor and Evelyn could return to Simferopol in the event that the unrest resolves itself. However, Taylor noted that more problems would occur if Simferopol were to go from being a Ukrainian territory to a Russian territory, as American citizens often encounter extreme difficulty in obtaining a visa to enter Russia.

While the outcome of the situation is unclear, Taylor said she is in constant communication with Kostya through Skype. She said he is doing well, but the family just wants to be reunited one way or another.

“He’s tough. He won’t let anyone see if he’s hurting inside or anything because he’s a stoic guy, but he definitely misses our daughter,” she said. “As long as we’re together again, it doesn’t matter whether we go back there or we can finally get him to come here.”

In the meantime, Taylor said she is just waiting to hear good news from anybody while facing the possibility of staying in Jamestown long-term.

“I want to stick it out for maybe another week to see what’s going to happen, but then I’m going to have to settle in. And I’m scared to settle in, because I may be going back eventually,” she said. “I’m hoping someone will call and say, ‘We found it, we know what we’re going to do to help you.’ Right now, I’m really just waiting for someone to get back to me and I’m trying to be patient.”

Taylor said a referendum will be held in Simferopol on March 16 to determine whether Crimea will remain Ukrainian or will become a Russian territory, but there is no guarantee that the referendum will resolve the crisis taking place in her area.

Family and friends of Taylor’s family have taken to social media and other online resources to draw attention to the situation. Over the past few days, a Facebook page entitled “Bring Kostya Home,” and an online petition to Sen. Schumer at www.change.org have been established – each of which has garnered more than 500 supporters.