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How America Saved my Life

Anna Vesely's story posted on August 30, 2012 at 9:47 pm. Anna emigrated from Kiev, Ukraine to New York, United States in 1994

The story of my immigration to this country was relayed to me through my grandmother and mother, as I was much too young to remember it. However, just because I cannot give a first-hand account of all the hardships my parents faced does not make me any less connected to their strife or appreciative of what they have been through. Their story has become my story because it has affected me so much both literally and figuratively. It makes me strive for ideals in my life and influences me to be a grateful and humble individual, knowing that so much effort has been put into giving me opportunities in this country.  And so, the scene is set for the story of my immigration to the United States. My mother was energetic, hardworking, and most importantly, intelligent. She finished primary school with excellent marks, with only two grades preventing her from receiving a perfect transcript of all 5s. With these scores, my mother attempted to enter the prestigious College of Radio-electronics. She was turned away. The administration bluntly explained that her Jewish nationality barred her from admission. Discouraged and crestfallen, my mother instead attended a different, less desirable college. When it came time to enter an institute, my mother once again faced the barriers of a discriminatory society. She attempted to enter the Kiev Polytechnic Institute, acing her written exams. However, when the time came for the oral portion, the university got a hold of her records and, seeing that she was Jewish, made the subjective, oral portion of her entrance exams impossibly hard. Once again discriminated against because of her ethnicity, my mother did not give up. She instead attended night classes at National Economic University of Ukraine, working during the day to support herself and her single mother.

After this point, my mother entered a new stage in her life. She married my father and in 1994 gave birth to me in Kiev, Ukraine. The birth was extremely difficult, but eventually my mom and I were released from the hospital. Within the next few months, my parents noticed that there was something very wrong with me. I was not gaining any weight and refused to drink my mother’s milk. My mom and I went to the hospital for some tests, but the results were lost, the hospital did little to help us, prescribing ineffective medicine. My condition was worsening and my mother was not feeling well either. By this point I was suffering from a fever and various stomach problems and after two weeks in the hospital, my mother was so ill that she couldn’t walk. It is around this time that we were scheduled by HIAS to go to America. My parents were very scared about my well-being, but they knew that coming to America was the best option for me. The superior health services in the United States were my only hope at that point.

Praying that the flight attendants would let us board the flight, my parents took their seats and held me close, trying not to attract too much attention to my condition. Luckily, we were cleared and the plane that was to be our vehicle to opportunity, took off into the air.

Alas, our moment of relief only lasted for a few hours. Throughout the flight, my symptoms were getting worse and worse. I was doing so badly that eventually a flight attendant had to make an announcement asking if there were any doctors on the plane. This time we were not so lucky. There was no one to help us, and my fever stricken body could not handle the pressure of the illness anymore. I was not even crying anymore, I was just quietly lying in my scared mother’s arms, breathing heavily. My mother remembers the rest of the trip to America as a blur, wondering if her infant was going to survive the journey.

As soon as we landed, an ambulance was called for us, but here my parents confronted their next dilemma: neither of them spoke a word of English. They realized that they could not take me to the emergency room.  With the help of some friends, they called up a Russian speaking doctor. Finally our miracle came: after much begging, the doctor agreed to make a house call. Within a few hours he wrote out a prescription for some medicine and baby formula. Things quickly started looking up for my family. We got settled in with my father’s sister and I was getting healthier very rapidly. I happily drank the baby formula prescribed to me, something that was not available in Ukraine. But this is not just a story about how America helped me survive, this is also a story about how it gave me a future. Seventeen years after our dramatic arrival to this country, it was time for me to apply to college. After a lot of anxious essay writing and waiting, I learned that I was accepted into the University of Virginia, an old school founded by Thomas Jefferson, rich with American history and ideals. This public college is filled with traditions and is, in the full sense of the world, an American institution. When I decided to go to the University of Virginia, my mother broke out into tears. Partly, it was because I was moving so far away from our house in New Jersey. But I now know that another reason for my mom’s tears was the fact that this country accepted me, a Jewish immigrant for whom English was not even a first language, whereas in Ukraine, my status as a Jew would keep me away from so many opportunities. Coming to this country has saved my life both literally and figuratively and I couldn’t be more grateful to HIAS for bringing me here.  


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you are very lucky girl, good luck!

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