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Ukrainian native flees to safety with fiance in Maine

"I didn't want to leave my home, but I understood that I have to do that."

OLD ORCHARD BEACH, Maine — "It's really painful to see how people just destroy your country and kill innocent people," Kristina Kniaziuk said. 

Kniaziuk is a Ukrainian native. She's from the western part of the country, close to the Moldovan border. Just one day after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, she fled the country with her aunt and cousin. Her parents remained in Ukraine.

"I didn't want to leave my home, but I understood that I have to do that," she said. 

Kniaziuk told NEWS CENTER Maine she traveled through Moldova, Romania, Hungary, and Slovakia before finally reaching Poland, where she was able to remain safe. 

"I'm really, really worrying about my relatives in Ukraine because it's getting worse and worse," she said. 

Kniaziuk, who was a student in the city of Odessa in Ukraine, also has family members who have decided to remain in the nation's largest city of Kiev.

Kniaziuk said it took roughly three days to reach Poland, as she witnessed the refugee crisis firsthand. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, nearly 4.2 million people have fled Ukraine, and more than 2.5 million of them have gone to Poland. 

"[There were] huge lines at the border. Hundreds of cars, hundreds of people. Every time we waited probably for 10 hours at each border to get through," Kniaziuk said.

Throughout the entire journey, Kniaziuk was in close contact with her fiance Lonny Macorquodale, who is from Old Orchard Beach. 

The two met when while Kniaziuk was working in Old Orchard Beach through a J-1 Visa and have been engaged since October of 2021. 

Once Kniaziuk reached safety in Poland, Macorquodale dropped everything to be with her. 

"At the time I didn't think I could bring her back, to be honest. I didn't think that it was a possibility, so I was just trying to be there to comfort her," Macorquodale said. 

While Macorquodale was in Poland with his fiancée, his mother, Kim Varney, was reaching out to churches and nonprofits to find any way the two could return together to the U.S. 

Varney connected with the Spring Life Family Church in Orangeville, California, which told her they have humanitarian volunteers to help in Tijuana, Mexico, and they would be able to cross the border there. After that, the two began booking flights in hopes of returning to the U.S. through the southern Border.

In Tijuana, they stayed at a makeshift refugee camp for more than a day waiting to meet with an immigration officer. Eventually, Macorquodale, who is a legal resident, and Kniaziuk were able to enter the U.S. Kniaziuk was granted humanitarian parole, which allows her to stay in the U.S. for one year. 

"I feel comfortable," Kniaziuk said while speaking with NEWS CENTER Maine fewer than two days after reaching Maine. "But I'm always nervous reading the news, every time."

The couple arrived at the Portland Jetport late Friday night after traveling for five consecutive days. They returned to Old Orchard Beach, where the two will be living. Kniaziuk hopes that by sharing her story, she can draw attention to the continued violence happening in her nation.

"The occupants, the invaders, they try destroying the whole nation. And I think it's [a] really, really terrible situation, and all people need to help," Kniaziuk said.

Kniaziuk said she remains in very close contact with loved ones who are still in Ukraine and calls for an end to the violence and continued support from countries across the globe to support the people of Ukraine.

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