‘I just want them to go with me’: San Antonio couple tries to bring Ukrainian parents to safety

Crowds of people are trying to navigate their next steps after escaping Ukraine. That includes a San Antonio couple who traveled to Europe to help their family.

Natalia Bryant kept in touch with her parents Leonid and Teitiana Shumeiko as tensions between Russia and Ukraine escalated into an invasion.

Her mother and father raised a family in Kyiv and were determined to stay, despite the chaos. They even spent a week in a bunker, lined with jars of food. The room had just enough space to sleep.

Natalia said her father was proud to know five generations of families grow up in the house he called home. She understood her father’s sense of pride, but was concerned for her parents’ health and urged them to cross into Poland.

“We had a real long fight with them leaving. But, when he heard that people made it, they started doing it. And, as soon I hear they went to the railway station, we got tickets and we flew,” Natalia said.

Natalia and her husband Tim booked two tickets from San Antonio to Poland. They say tickets were $4,000 each.

“Ultimately, it’s like people’s lives are much more important. At the same time, it’s like, at some point it is going to catch up. You know, there’s a financial toll,” Tim said.

As Tim and Natalia made their way overseas, Natalia’s parents were faced with waiting in line to cross the Ukrainian border in freezing temperatures.

“They were standing like seven hours in a row,” Natalia said.

Compared to other people’s wait times, that was considered to be quick.

“Some people standing there, like nine, 16 hours. On the street, people with kids, old people,” Natalia said.

At one point Natalia said her father grew so nervous he almost decided to go back home. Luckily, some of Natalia’s friends and her own mother calmed his fears as they waited in line. And eventually they were able to cross. They only had the clothes they were wearing, and a few bags with belongings.

People in Poland were ready to help once her parents crossed the border with Ukraine.

“Polish busses already pick you up, put you in a warm place, give you warm clothes, give you everything,” she said.

When Tim, Natalia and her parents finally met up, there was a sense of relief.

You almost feel guilty because like, you know, they’re sitting there. We came and got them. (But) there’s still hundreds of people there,” Tim said.

The goal is to bring Natalia’s parents back to San Antonio, but they are running into several challenges. Tim contacted several U.S. Embassies about obtaining a visa, but only received a few responses. When Natalia’s parents were finally able to fill out an application, Tim says they were advised the processing time could take anywhere between two to three months.

Natalia said her Ukrainian parent’s biometric passports run out after 90 days. “After that, they have no place to go back.”

Time isn’t the only challenge. Tim and Natalia are also expecting to face more financial hurdles. The family is renting rooms to stay in and buying food to keep them going. Since they’re expecting a long wait, they’re hoping to raise money to help with future expenses.

Tim said Ukrainians can apply for asylum, but that would mean giving up their passport to apply.

“So as soon as you apply for asylum, If you have family that you’re trying to get connected with in the U.S., you’re stuck,” Tim said.

Tim wants the visa process to be expedited in the emergency situation. He’s even called on San Antonio to help make that happen.

“The biggest thing that we say is just, contact your representatives. Contact your congressman. There needs to be something done,” he said.