MORGANTOWN – During Olena Martynenko’s first visit to the United States, she came as a molecular biologist on assignment for NASA. During her last visit, she fled the bombs in her Ukrainian home.
Olena and her husband, Petro Bruyaka, traveled from their home in Kyiv in January this year to visit their daughter, Olga Buryaka, who is a business professor at West Virginia University.
Their vacation was cut short by the Russian invasion of their homeland shortly after their trip.
With only tourist visas in hand and most of their belongings at home. Olena and Perto are living with their daughter in Morgantown while they wait for the lengthy approval process for “temporary protected status,” which would essentially mark them as war refugees.
“We know that once [my parents] get temporary status protection, they will be entitled to some kind of health care,” Olga said. “I was crossing my fingers, hoping that during this process nothing would happen to them health-wise.”
But their hopes were dashed when Petro had to undergo emergency cataract surgery when his eye reached critical pressure. This resulted in a $10,000 medical bill.
Then, just a few weeks ago, Olena had to be rushed to the emergency room with a heart problem. They haven’t received this invoice yet, but Olga is worried about what will happen.
Both of her parents are retired – Olena is 68 and Petro is 70 – and receive a small pension from the Ukrainian government, but do not have access to their money back home.
Even if they had access to their funds, these out-of-pocket medical expenses would still be nearly insurmountable. And due to their current visa status, they are treated in the system as medical tourists.
The weight of their medical problems and the stress of war have taken their toll on Olena and Petro, who don’t speak much English.
“We are very worried because we don’t want to be a burden on Olga,” said Petro, her daughter working as a translator. “We also don’t want to be a burden on American society. We are asking for help, during this time when we cannot manage these expenses.
So now the three of them are stuck with hospital bills and more to come, as they watch the war in their home country unfold on the other side of the world.
Olga said her parents watched 24/7 war updates and had cousins and friends who fought in the Ukrainian army against the Russian invaders.
Being in the United States during this time, Olga and her parents felt the outpouring of American love and support for them and their struggle at home.
Olga told of a woman who kissed her mother on the street when they were both out and the woman found out they were Ukrainians.
“There are people in Morgantown coming our way, even people who don’t know us but notice my bag with the Ukrainian flag or a flag pin that I’m wearing,” Olga said. “They were just coming to hug my mom after hearing our story.”
In Ukraine, the majority of support citizens hear about is official statements from President Joe Biden or the delivery of military weapons, so when people like Olena and Petro see the outpouring of support for their home, they feel compelled. to overcome the Russian onslaught.
Of all the little gestures of support, Petro said, “It’s important.
“We are aware of and grateful for the support that the United States and Europe have provided to Ukraine,” Petro said. “With all this help, it’s almost our duty to win.”
“People of all professions are fighting and volunteering to defend Ukraine,” Olena said. “One of Olga’s childhood friends, who is an actor and writer, is now fighting in the army.”
But even with the verbal and physical support Olga and her family have felt since the war began, they are still in this medical vacuum.
Until Petro and Olena are processed for their temporary protected status, they find themselves with this financial dilemma, and Olga is in a bind.
The couple are grateful to Right to Health Milan Puskar for providing them with free medication and the WVU Legal Clinic has offered to help them with their protected status and represent them on a pro bono basis.
The Times West Virginian contacted WVU Medicine and the WVU Law Clinic, but did not receive contacts by the deadline for this article.
Olga and her parents are at the point where they are asking for help from the community to pay their medical bills until her parents are able to get some kind of health coverage.
“When I look at them, I can’t say, ‘Well, next year when we have insurance, we’ll go to the doctors,’ because it might be too late by then,” he said. said Olga. “I’m not American, so I’m learning about the system. So maybe there is a way, that’s why now I’m asking for help.
If you are interested in supporting Olga and her family or offering advice or encouragement, email their local support group at [email protected] or visit www.morgantown-ua.info.