By Jasmine Hall
Wyoming Tribune Eagle Via Wyoming News Exchange 

Ukrainian mother, daughter, reunite in Cheyenne


April 14, 2022

Michael Smith

Iryna Wiggam, left, hugs her mother, Tamara Kochubei, at the Paramount Cafe in Cheyenne. Kochubei arrived from the Ukraine last week to stay with her daughter during the Russian invasion.

CHEYENNE - More than a month after Russian troops invaded Ukraine, a mother fleeing the country has been reunited with her daughter in Cheyenne.

Tamara Kochubei's first week back in America since the COVID-19 pandemic started has been filled with mixed emotions. She braved the weeklong trek across Europe before departing from the airport in Frankfurt, Germany, last Friday, and accepted she might not have a home to return to.

She said coming to see her daughter, local paralegal Iryna Wiggam, was a rush of relief, but her heart is still with the people of Ukraine she left behind.

"She didn't want to leave her home," Wiggam translated for her mother. "She didn't want to leave her job because she has lots of friends at work and colleagues, and even just people in her apartment complex. And she didn't want to lock up her apartment and leave it, because who knows what happens later, and if she even has a home to go back to."

Before she made the decision to leave, the Ukrainian citizen spent the entire first month of the invasion in her hometown of Cherkasy, a city in the central part of the former Soviet republic. She continued to work at the clinic as a family physician, interrupted by air raid sirens three to four times a shift. Although the city was at risk of bombing because it's less than 130 miles south of Kyiv, it wasn't actively under siege.

With things having been safer, she said this was one of the factors that impacted her decision to stay. Buses and trains were full of Ukrainians trying to leave the fighting zones, and Kochubei did not want to take the spot of someone in need.

"I'm not getting shot everyday, but people who are, they need to be able to leave," she said.

It wasn't until Wiggam arranged travel for her mother with family friends that she felt prepared to leave. If she didn't take the opportunity to be with companions on the 13-hour shuttle to Poland, and then catch another daylong ride to Germany, she would have to do it alone in the future.

The ability to come to the U.S. was also made possible by the fact that Kochubei holds a tourist visa, which allows her to spend up to six months at a time here. Without it, she would not have been permitted to stay.

Wiggam said she was grateful this opportunity was available to them. She was always worried about her mother living alone after her father's death, but the war exacerbated the feeling. There was no way to get to her if something went wrong.

"I can't jump on the plane anymore because the airports in Ukraine are shut down," she said.

Both agreed it was the best decision to come to Cheyenne, even with the feeling of grief following Kochubei's departure. Now, they said, they have a sense of security.

"The best thing has probably been how quiet it is. Sirens are not going off, and you can actually sleep through the night without getting woken up by the siren that tells you that you have to get up and go to the shelter," Kochubei said. "And just spending time with a kid with the grandkids and enjoying family has been the most favorite part."

Another thing they both said they never expected to feel coming from the war was unity. It shines through one of the most difficult moments not only of their lives, but for all of the citizens of their nation. Wiggam said eastern and western Ukraine now realize they have more in common, which is the determination to be free from Russia. Whatever divisions or doubts were felt before have disappeared.

"In Ukraine, the new thing they say is 'glory to Ukraine, glory to the heroes,'" she said.

This story was published on April 10.


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