While it wasn’t what she thought her Sweet 16 was going to look like — one Ukrainian refugee was finally able to celebrate with new friends in Northern Virginia.
Viktoria Stepaniuke was supposed to celebrate her birthday at her home in Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 1.
“But instead of that, they had to pack their life and two small suitcases and flee their country. They were on central train station in Kyiv. With the huge crowds where people were terrified,” said her sister Olha who translated for her.
Olha has been in the U.S. for several years. She is a student at Washington University of Virginia.
Viktoria arrived at the Elmer Timberman Lodge and blew out candles in front of people in her new hometown.
“She says that it’s a bit different for her. It’s, of course not the birthday that she would expect with her friends and then many people that she still doesn’t know. So it’s different.”
Olha said that two months away from her home and friends has her sister Viktoria, understandably, is a little homesick.
Nelson Figuero-Velez is an immigration attorney and the founder of The International Embassy. He also teaches at Washington University of Virginia and Olha was a former student.
He helped Viktoria Stepaniuke and her mother get from Ukraine to Annandale, Virginia.
He reached out to any contact he had and after about six weeks he and Olha were able to get them into the U.S. through Mexico.
“I think the same day or the next day, they were given a parole into the United States,” Figuero-Velez told WTOP.
They are helping three more families get into the U.S. Sadly a family that had initially contacted them was killed during an attack.
Along with the birthday party for Viktoria, Figuero-Velez has begun organizing a carnivallike event that he hopes to hold monthly in the Masonic Lodge’s parking lot. Sunday’s event drew around 500 people to visit local food vendors in the lot.
All the money will go toward immigration and living expenses for any refugee that the International Embassy will work with.