Marina Getmanova is from Mariupol, Ukraine and gave birth to her daughter, Elizabeth when she was 30.
“Elizabeth is my world, my everything,” said Marina.
Three days after Elizabeth was born, she was diagnosed with Down syndrome.
Marina had never heard of Down syndrome before.
“I didn’t know what to do, or how to handle it,” said Marina. “All my hopes were broken at that time because I was so broken.”
The new mother’s only source for information on her daughter’s special needs was the internet.
Marina doesn’t speak fluent English and requested a translator when she spoke with FOX23 through a Zoom call. Asya Petrosyan speaks Russian and was happy to help. Marina also speaks Russian and Asya translated her story into English.
Asya says that the mentality towards special needs children is completely different in the United States, than it is in Ukraine.
“Countries like Russia and Ukraine, it’s not as developed as here,” said Asya. “Mariupol is a small city with 500,000 people in it, and they don’t have the sources for kids with special needs.”
There was training offered online for three hours a day, which gave Marina some insight and tools to work with Elizabeth. Marina started a job as a pharmaceutical representative and was able to pay many of the medical expenses and Elizabeth’s needs. She also took a second job as a property manager.
“Life was very good,” said Marina.
Elizabeth is now 5 years old.
On Feb. 23. She turned on the TV after dinner with her daughter and she saw the global conference with Vladimir Putin, the Russian president who was giving a speech.
“I understood from his speech that part of Ukraine is going to be joined, forcibly joined to Russia,” said Marina. “I understood that that’s the start of the war. And I started crying. And my daughter said, mom, don’t cry. I started packing the things, you know, thinking that the war is going to start.”
On Feb. 24 at 4:00 a.m., Marina was startled awake by a heavy explosion. The bombing had begun.
In an hour, there were no lights. The electricity was totally disconnected.
Marina lived on the ninth floor of an apartment building and the elevator stopped working.
“The phone was still working, but the connection was very bad and weak,” recalled Marina. “A couple of clothes. All the necessary things. I didn’t even pack the jewelry. Just the money. And I even forgot my passport and the documents. I picked up my baby and suitcase. And I just ran, because I was scared to death.”
Marina was stressed and emotional. She turned on cartoons for Elizabeth on her phone to distract her from the chaos colliding around them.
It was a four-day escape stuck in heavy traffic, describes Marina. Everyone was trying to flee.
“Everyone was trying to save each other, save themselves,” said Marina. “We had to drive through a dense forest to get to the border.”
Marina believes they were some of the last few they let past the blockade because they saw Elizabeth traveling with them.
“The other families, they were cut off from the border. They couldn’t escape from the Mariupol,” said Marina with tears in her eyes.
When Marina reached Krakow, Poland with her daughter, she was finally able to relax, and breathe and she felt she and her family were finally in a safe place.
Since arriving in Krakow, Marina found a job working as a pharmacist assistant, but says she is not making enough to support her and Elizabeth. The resources for special needs services are scarce in Poland.
Meanwhile, a woman called Tetyana Klimenko from Ukraine, now living in Tulsa, learned about Marina and Elizabeth through a post on Facebook and immediately wanted to help them.
Tetyana has a grown daughter who has Down syndrome.
“I’m a mother of a special needs child I can’t even imagine when you kinda wake up and there’s nothing there’s no house there’s no diploma there’s no job there are no relatives, there’s no friends, you’re in somebody else country with no support you have nowhere to go,” said Tetyana. “With special needs, it becomes twice as hard because they require extra attention and extra effort.”
Tetyana says that the apartment building that Marina and her daughter lived in was completely destroyed by bombs. She wants to help Marina, Elizabeth and Irina, Marina’s mother find a new life in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Through a government resettlement program called, “United for Ukraine,” Marina’s family will be able to begin their lives again. She’s also started a Gofundme page to raise support for Marina.
Tetyana doesn’t want people to forget what is happening in Ukraine and is calling on the Tulsa community to help.
“I hope the United States can give me this opportunity and better needs for my baby where I can take care of her,” shared Marina.
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