One year later: Lehigh University graduate living in Ukraine looks back on harrowing escape

"Stories of survival are unfortunately not as inspiring as the romcoms make it seem," Alina Beskrovna said.

Friday, February 24, 2023
One year later: Lehigh grad living in Ukraine looks back on escape
One year later, Alina Beskrovna, of Ukraine, is back on United States soil but the journey to get here was far from easy.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- A day before Russia invaded Ukraine, a Lehigh University graduate from Mariupol, Ukraine spoke to Action News as she was taking shelter.

Hours after our initial contact, now 32-year-old Alina Beskrovna lost all communication with the world.

One year later, she is back on United States soil but the journey to get here was far from easy.

"Stories of survival are unfortunately not as inspiring as the romcoms make it seem," Beskrovna said.

When Russia invaded, Beskrovna and he mother were separated from her father. They would go on to live in cold, dark basements with strangers, with no running water or electricity, and cooking on open fire between shellings, not knowing if they would survive.

"Every soup became a question of life and death. Do you want to have lunch today, and are you willing to risk your life? People who tried to get out were either turned back because it was too dangerous with active fighting in the fields going on, or they were killed in action," she said.

Not knowing what each minute would bring, eventually, they decided to try to escape.

"We were stuck in (the basement) for a month, because whoever they did not leave in the first couple of days risking their lives, was stuck. The city was being besieged. It was encircled. My friend was lucky enough because he had two cars, and one still had a little fuel in it. Fuel became, you know, it was shortage of fuel, so it was being sold well for ridiculous prices. So, he had a little bit of fuel, and we stashed six adults and four cats and everything we owned," she said.

"So, it was 3 families, and we tried to make it on March 23. There were 16 Russian checkpoints to the city of Zaporizhzhia, which became famous because it has the largest nuclear facility in Europe that Russia had been shelling."

Beskrovna didn't know if her father was alive, there was no communication with him for months. She feared the worst.

"I did not know which my father was alive until late May, when I was able to establish contact through people I've never met who were neighbors and lived across the steet," she said. "I got him out remotely through a stranger through Russia, because Russia would not allow Ukrainians to go to the Ukrainian controlled territory. They wanted everyone to pass filtration."

But when she finally saw him, her dad didn't quite look the same.

"He lost 12 kilos, which is about 25 pounds. He didn't look like himself. He logged hundreds of miles by foot, and just the casual tone of him describing what he went through. I was really worried ...he showed me a down jacket that he brought with him that had hole in the sleeve that was badly mended by him," Beskrovna recalled.

The entire journey was agonizing for all of them. They had help from dozens of complete strangers along every part of their trek: people let them stay in their homes, others provided food and transportation. Pennsylvania Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick was able to help get them to the US together.

"We would be stuck in a refugee camp in Europe forever if it wasn't for your help, congressman," Beskrovna said on a Zoom call with Fitzpatrick.

"Starting in Mariupol, and then your family traveled to Copenhagen as part of the EU program, and then their appointment was originally in Frankfurt. We got that transfer to Montreal, obviously all the records were lost in Mariupol do to the invasion. So, we had to reconstitute a lot of that. But I'm really glad to hear it worked out. We thought all the images, and and thought this type of brutality was permanently relegated to the history books," Fitzpatrick said.

And the congressman vows to keep helping everyone he can.

"We are doing everything we can to get them as much assistance on all fronts as we can. It's not come fast enough for my liking, but it is coming," he said.

Fitzpatrick said the initial world reaction was slow.

"A lot of our European allies had a hard time wrapping their brain around that. That's why there was such a slow reaction to start. I sit on the House Intelligence Committee, we were providing intelligence to our European allies. Well in advance of this invasion, we could not convince them that this is going to happen quite frankly," he said.

Beskrovna wants everyone to understand how bad things really are, and the atrocities that are happening. She says they are much worse than we think.

"It's a lot of human suffering, unfairness, animals suffering in front of my eyes. Just hundreds of thousands of abandoned animals that were, you know, lounging on a couch, being fed treats yesterday that are trying to survive today. A lot of children who don't understand what's happening. Who are now orphaned. It's just really gruesome."

I just learned that humans are really scary. Yes, there will be people helping. There will be people on the right side of history. But there will also be people who are looking out for personal gain in every situation," she said.

Now, Beskrovna is back in Williampsort, staying with her host family from her exchange program in 2006. She is teaching her parents English and how to drive, and taking them to the great places in this nation of which they are now permanent residents, but her future a bit more uncertain.

"I'm on a humanitarian parole. The goal is to stay. The goal is to be useful to both countries," she said.

Fitzpatrick has invited Beskrovna and her family to Washington, DC to spend a day with him.