14-year-old Ukrainian refugee arrives in SoCal after fleeing war-torn Ukraine alone

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ByAmy Powell via KABC logo
Monday, March 21, 2022
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A 14-year-old who fled his home in war-torn Ukraine has made it to SoCal to begin a new life. He is one of 1.5 million children to flee to safety since the war with Russia began.

A 14-year-old who fled his home in war-torn Ukraine has made it to Southern California to begin a new life. He is one of 1.5 million children to flee to safety.

Illia Ishchenko-Leshchynskyl has been in the Southland a little more than a week. The 14-year-old is staying with his aunt after fleeing Ukraine alone.

"My trip to this place was three days," said Illia. "This was so long and hard for me but I'm here, and that's so good."

Illia's aunt says her sister called from Ukraine after Russian troops invaded and started bombing the country, displacing millions of people.

"She just told me, 'I will put my older son in the bus and he will go to you, to get to USA,'" said Olena Zdorovska

Zdorovska described the emotional moments when her nephew finally arrived.

"Cry, cry, cry cry, and just next day we start to speak," Zdorovska said. "We didn't speak a lot first evening. I was very happy to hug him. And I was really afraid when he was in the bus."

The 14-year-old says he misses his parents and little brother. He's staying in contact by phone.

"My Mom is in Berlin, my granny and my little brother too, but my dad is in Kiev," said Illia. "My whole family, except my dad, is in a safety place."

Illia says his family made the difficult decision to send him out of the country, when the deadly bombings started.

Zdorovska moved to the U.S. several years ago from Kyiv. She worries about the danger facing relatives and friends.

"The first week, I remember one day I was 12 hours on my phone to call everybody," Zdorovska explained. "I know to ask how can I help what's going on? So many people leave."

Illia is adjusting to his new life.

"I'm so sad about my family but I'm so happy because I'm here," he said. "This was my dream, so for me, it's amazing."