Her name is Yevgeniya Ilyina, although she goes by Jane now.
As it has for many from Ukraine, the past five months have been difficult for Ilyina and her family. They were wrenched from their home in Kharkiv, the second-largest city in Ukraine, on the morning of Feb. 24, when Russia began its invasion.
Now, she and her family live in Burleson. She and her husband were working at the Kharkiv National Medical University, where she was associate professor in the ophthalmology department, and her husband, Audrey, was a lead software engineer. She holds four patents in the Ukraine and has done a lot of work with diabetic patients who often are afflicted with diabetic retinopathy that can lead to blindness.
“I love what I do,” she said. “I want to be able to do it here. I know I have a lot to contribute.”
She and her husband, 43 and 42 respectively, are both hoping to land jobs similar to the ones they left behind. They are in the United States on a tourist B1/B2 visa that was obtained in 2015. They are applying for a national interest waiver visa. Ilyina hopes if she is hired by a university or company that can sponsor an H-1B visa that could lead to citizenship.
Ilyina speaks nearly perfect English while her husband is taking classes to strengthen his language skills. Their 15-year-old son, Vlad, is enrolled in school in Burleson.
They have received help from several professionals in the area, but have not yet landed a job.
“I got help with my resume and updated my Linked In page, based on some of the advice I received,” she said.
Hope Kahan, managing director of Trinity Park Talent, said people seeking employment from another country should check to make sure their resumes and online profiles are in line with practices in the new country.
Ilyina is working in Richardson, but hopes to find a job more in line with the one she left behind in Kharkiv.
On Feb. 24, when Russian troops began firing on her city, life changed quickly for the family.
The family’s journey to North Texas found them escaping the war in their home city, spending time in Italy and then finding their way to Fort Worth.
That initial morning the bombings began, many there thought they might eventually stop, but the bombardment continued through the day, Ilyina said. All shops, pharmacies and banks were closed, so they could not withdraw cash as ATMs did not work.
They relocated to her sister’s home which was farther away from the fighting, but the shelling continued and they decided to take a train out of the city.
“There were reports that cars trying to leave were being fired upon so we decided to take a train,” she said. “We had nothing but our dog and documents.”
The train station was chaotic, she said, but after several hours they were able to board a crowded train.
When the train began moving, they heard a loud explosion nearby.
“Later we learned that the shell landed a meter from the last car on the train,” she said.
The trains stopped for three hours in Kyiv where the conductors asked the passengers not to talk and turn off all phones to avoid detection.
“It was very quiet except for some babies crying and children asking to go home,” she said.
They eventually moved forward, then took a bus to Slovakia, spending a night in a refugee camp. They then traveled to Austria, then Italy.
“We had no money, no clothes. We didn’t really know what we were going to do,” Ilyina said.
Because the family likes to travel, they had obtained travel visas to the U.S. in 2015. They had those visas, but weren’t sure if they wanted to go to the U.S.
In the Italian village where they were staying, there was a small chapel in the mountains, where the monk St. Bernardino had once lived, Ilyina said.
“My husband went for a walk in the woods there to pray, to ask what we should do next,” she said. “When my husband approached the chapel wondering if we should go to America, the door to the chapel opened by itself. We felt like that was a sign.”
They still had their dog, Tesla, but to travel to the U.S., the dog needed to be microchipped. They were able to get a chip, so they could bring Tesla, too.
The family had already made a connection via the internet with the Ukrainian Cultural Club of Dallas, which then helped bring them to North Texas in late March.
“Our primary focus now is raising awareness of the war of Ukraine and raising funds for relief, but when we can help refugees over here, we certainly will,” said Nataliya Shtanyuk, president of the Ukrainian Cultural Club of Dallas.
Ilyina said she hopes the war in Ukraine will end soon. But they are focused on making their new lives here.
“We need to change the status of where we are and get a job to support our family while we figure out what our lives will be like going forward,” she said.
How to help Ukraine and refugees
North Texas Community Foundation has a page with information on how to help.
Local Ukrainian organizaitons:
Bob Francis is business editor for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.