University of Florida law student Volodymyr Boitchouk says he just wants his best friend – his brother, an American citizen and Ukrainian national stuck in that country – to come home safely.
Myroslav Boitchouk on Feb. 24 FaceTimed his family as he sat alone inside a cold train station in Chop to tell them that Russia had attacked Ukraine, and that he was refused refuge in Hungary.
A student at Ivano-Frankivsk National Medical University, Myroslav Boitchouk, 22, was born and raised in Deland, Florida. He is in Ivano-Frankivsk, in the western part of Ukraine, where he’s studying to become a general practitioner.
With the Ivano-Frankivsk airport among the first targeted by Russian missiles, Volodymyr Boitchouk, 25, who is studying international relations law, said: “Myroslav has health issues. He has suffered from asthmatic attacks and will not be a useful soldier. He would only be worrying us.”
Myroslav Boitchouk, who arrived in Ukraine on a student visa in 2018, told WUFT News during an interview early Sunday that everything has happened so suddenly.
“You’re going to the store, you’re studying, you’re just going for a walk, then all of a sudden, it snaps into your mind again, you know, I need to check the news,” he said.
Myroslav Boitchouk said soon after he reapplied for another 90-day renewal, the university said he could only continue his education there if he became a Ukrainian national.
That’s because under Ukrainian law, if your parents were born in that country, it does not matter where you are born, you are automatically a Ukrainian citizen. The country does not allow citizens to have a dual citizenship except under special circumstances.
In Myroslav Boitchouk’s case, he said, the university found out that his parents were born in Ukraine, so he was told that he had to report that he is a Ukrainian national by blood.
His change in status meant that as a Ukrainian national, he could not leave the country because of an emergency degree effectively drafting all men ages 18-60 into the military.
When Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized the independence of two Ukrainian cities as breakaway regions on Feb. 22, Volodymyr Boitchouk said that’s when he realized any hypothetical discussion of Russia’s plan to invade Ukraine was over.
“A war is going to happen,” Volodymyr Boitchouk said he told himself. “I didn’t tell my parents to get Myroslav out of the country the next day, and I blame myself for that.”
After tensions rose between the U.S. and Russia over Ukraine in December, their mother Nadiya Lewytska worried then about the possibility of an invasion, purchased plane tickets to get Myroslav Boitchouk safely out of the country. When tensions seemed to settle in the interim, however, she rescheduled the flight to align with his school’s schedule.
On the night of the invasion, Volodymyr Boitchouk, his mother and father Vasyl Boichook – both of whom live in Ormond Beach, Florida – began calling U.S. embassies in the countries that border Ukraine, desperate to know which ones were letting people pass through.
“I finally spoke to a border guard in a border town in Hungary, where American citizens are supposed to go,” Volodymyr Boitchouk said. Speaking of the guard, “I mean, he was no embassy official; he was just an American soldier. There was nothing he could do.”
After days of not receiving any assistance from U.S. embassies, Volodymyr Boitchouk said he felt that “to some degree, they probably weren’t very interested in helping somebody get their kid home to safety.” It was if those sympathetic to the Ukrainian cause were saying, he said, “Like, come on, our sons are fighting – and you want to bring yours to America?”
In the meantime, Volodymyr Boitchouk and his family anxiously await answers from both the U.S. government and the Ukrainian government on updates related to the refugee crisis.
The U.S. State Department has said it is aware of American citizens being turned away from entry into bordering countries due to Ukrainian law, and that it is trying to find a way to bring Americans who are stuck in Ukraine home safely.
In the meantime, Vasyl Boichook, who changed the spelling of his name to make it easier for Americans to pronounce, said Ukrainians would continue to fight for independence.
“They say they will fight nail and tooth for every yard of their land,” he said.