Cal Guard Soldier helps family evacuated from Ukraine | Item
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Anastasia Maynich was overwhelmed with emotion when she saw her cousin, Tetiana, and Tetiana’s 11-year-old daughter, Sofia, at Henri Coandă International Airport in Bucharest, Romania, on March 4.
“I was running up to them and we just hugged and cried and we just hugged and cried and we just stood there and cried,” she said. “It was extremely moving.”
Maynich, a Ukrainian-born and naturalized US citizen, left the United States last week to help Tetiana and Sofia, who fled their home amid the war in Ukraine. A traditional National Guard soldier with the California National Guard’s 49th Military Police Brigade, Maynich took time off from his full-time civilian job as an emergency management specialist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View to help his family through the humanitarian crisis in his native country.
Shortly after Russian forces invaded Ukraine on February 24, Maynich said her cousin knew she had to leave. Tetiana, a policewoman at Odessa International Airport, saw a missile land on the military side of the airport and thought of her daughter.
“If anything happens with a Russian takeover, because of where she worked…and because she’s very patriotic to her country, she will most likely be executed,” Maynich said of the situation. of his cousin.
Tetiana and Sofia packed what they could. They left Odessa early one morning and headed for the Moldovan border.
“On the Ukrainian side, they were getting shot,” Maynich said. “Cars were getting shot at, so she had to flee too.”
Once allowed to enter Moldova, Tetiana and Sofia pushed on to Bucharest and met Maynich at the airport. The 365-mile journey from their home in Ukraine’s third-largest city took four days.
Maynich, a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear specialist deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, was relieved when she saw them.
“I wasn’t even that emotional when I came back from both deployments,” she said. “I’m just glad they were able to get out safely.”
Maynich grew up with Tetiana in Odessa before emigrating from Ukraine to the United States with her mother and sister when she was a teenager. The couple reconnected in Odessa in 2017 while Maynich served as an interpreter on a Cal Guard State Partnership Program mission.
“It was really awesome,” Maynich said. “I hadn’t seen her for 17 years.”
The California National Guard and Ukraine have enjoyed a close relationship for 30 years through the National Guard State Partnership Program, which pairs each state’s National Guard with an allied nation for mutually beneficial training, the sharing best practices and strengthening relationships abroad.
Maynich stays in Romania to help Tetiana and Sofia navigate life as refugees and begin the sponsorship process for them to come to the United States so they can live with her for as long as they need.
She serves as a translator for her cousin – Maynich speaks Ukrainian, Russian and English – and provides financial stability at a time when, she says, few banks in Bucharest are willing to exchange Tetiana’s Ukrainian money for local currency.
“I’m trying to save two lives, at least, as much as I can,” Maynich said. “It’s literally the only thing I can do at this point.”
When not researching the immigration process or arranging housing, Maynich, Tetiana and Sofia travel to local refugee meetings to serve as translators and distribute water, calling cards and other donated items.
“A lot of refugees here are doing the same thing. They don’t speak English, so I kind of helped them with translation and stuff,” Maynich said.
An older man she helped arrived with just a backpack. Fighting back tears, he told her of the horrors he saw while running to catch a bus across the border.
“It’s extremely heartbreaking,” Maynich said. “It hits so hard at home, and I’ve never experienced anything like it.”
Even with two deployments to war-torn areas, it’s different.
“In [the] Deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, we were always on mission. We were always doing stuff. I’ve never really experienced what I’m seeing right now,” Maynich said. “It’s my family. I love America, but I also love Ukraine because it’s my culture, my heritage.
NOTE: Tetiana and Sofia’s surname has been withheld for security reasons amid the ongoing conflict.
For more information on the National Guard
National Guard Facebook