How pain changed me…or my immigration story

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We all know pain. Just like you, I experienced pain, in the form of rejection and isolation. The pain of isolation and rejection changed my life and propelled me to immigrate from Ukraine to the United States to follow my heart.

Today I want to invite you to challenge your perception of pain and look at it as an opportunity. Pain as the call for action, a symptom of unsatisfied need or a deep longing for something.  Pain is a unique way our body communicates to us a need for a drastic change. Pain also can change your life, like it did mine.

Rejections of high school.

My immigration story starts back in high school when I struggled to connect with other kids. They liked me, but I was nerdy and awkward and somehow just struggled to connect with peers. Part of the reason was that I was into sports and books and most of my friends were into boys, sex, drugs, and alcohol. The second part of it people thought I was weird. I had high grades, did not strive to be part of any group and enjoyed school. I did not skip classes, smoked marijuana and hang out with boys.

Back, when I was 14, I realized, I was not the same as others. I was different. Being different hurt, since most of the time I was along, and it was painful. Little by little I learned how to cope with the pain of isolation by relying on myself to survive turbulent high school years. At 14 years old I felt that I did not belong to a local crowd, in my school in my home country.

Family Conflict.

After I graduated high school, I had a huge conflict with my mother and was asked to leave. Being rejected by my parents was very painful. After I left home, I struggled financially to make my ends meet and lived in other people`s homes, since I could not afford rent.

First work experiences.

Eventually, I found a sales job at the local flea market. The job was hard since I had to be outside, in any weather, for 6-7 hours a day. Weather gets crazy hot and super cold in Ukraine, and sometimes I had to run in one place to assure I don’t freeze my toes due to cold weather. Time passed, and in a few years, I found a part-time second job, working as a preschool PE teacher.

That said, I still struggled to make my ends meet. At that time, most of my peers were in college, which I could not afford on my own. I have chosen a different path, which again, severed my ties with my peers and created more isolation and more pain.

Neglect by immediate family.

For seven years when I lived on my own, I rented rooms in eight different homes. During that time my parents visited me only four times. We lived in the same town but the shame of admitting that I lived on my own, as a young woman was more than they could tolerate. I missed my parents terribly, so I would visit them every weekend, as often as I could with two jobs to manage.

Back then I cried a lot, thinking about them, missing family gathering, conversations, hugs and simply feeling belong. I was in pain, and the pain stemmed from being rejected by the very people who brought me to life. This act of neglect and living in isolation hurt me deeper than it could be articulated.

The decision to find a partner.

By the time I was 19 years old, I had realized that to combat the sense of isolation I need to create a family. I wanted to meet a partner and form long-term relationships, leading to marriage. By that time I dated a few guys and learned that the type of man I want to meet might not exist in Ukraine.

The very thought of leaving my home country and my family for good used to send goosebumps up my spine and give nightmares to my family. I had doubts but decided to give it a try. My parents did not support me. They were convinced I will end up in a sex trafficking, become a slave or simply will vanish.

Just like my family, I was scared too. After almost three months of research and interviews, I found a local dating agency which specialized in foreign dating. After a short interview, it became clear on-line dating with foreigners will cost me much money. In fact, with two jobs, I could not afford the services. I remember coming home in tears, thinking about the lack of resources and missed opportunity.

My pain of isolation released a new-found determination of not been defeated, so I decided to borrow money and hire the agency anyway. To pay my debt back, I found a third job. I remember how hard those days were, three jobs, English tutoring lessons, never-ending the pain of being along, staying until mid-night, writing letters, looking at pictures and dreaming about finding the right person.

Online rejection.

My journey to find the right person was very turbulent and lengthy. To summarize, I wrote over 900 letters and paid a small fortune for English tutoring, professional pictures sessions, translation services and traveling to meet eligible singles. The search continued for 3.5 years, with only three serious connections. My pain of isolation and feeling of not belonging in Ukraine never left me, so my determination only became more pronounced as time went on.

Finding the One.

One blessed day, I received a letter. The letter was just like hundreds of other letters I received prior when guys gave me shallow compliments about appearance and tried to establish a connection.

What was different in Paul`s letter was one phrase: “ You don’t know it yet, but you are mine.” The sentence struck me wrong, so I decided to reply with a very short and snotty comment how no man will treat me that way. Our first letter was written in July of 2002.


Our letters were incredible, honest, deep, illuminating and full of hope for our future. We also chatted for hours at the time in Yahoo Chat rooms. My English was terrible, and so we had to use a translator. It was hard and exciting.

As our communication deepened, I felt a need to hear Paul`s voice. I asked the agency to release his phone number. Reluctantly, they gave it to me, with a warning that I might ruin everything since I did not speak hardly any English.

As soon as the phone number was in my hands, I started planning my call. I wrote my text, short four sentences in Russian. I pulled out a dictionary and translated each word separately. I wrote my translation on a piece of paper and read it out loud. It sounded fine, but I knew my pronunciation was rather rough.

Terrified, I called Paul, but he was not home, so I left a message. After I hang up the phone, I realized what I did. I never called to a foreign country before and never left a message to a man.

I felt shame, disconnect, and pain. I cried. My pain came from fear that after Paul hears my message and realizes how bad I am at English, he will dump me, and my blissful dreams of our future will be gone forever.

Falling in love.

My fears were well-founded, but Paul, who lived in a few foreign countries and traveled overseas before was not shocked by my English. Paul recalls that he listened to my message at least 20+ times trying to comprehend my message.

As time went on, we started calling each other every week. My heart trembled, every time I heard the phone rang. I felt like an idiot, knowing Paul can barely understand what I was saying. The fear of losing him was so great, but the need to hear his voice was so much greater.

We wrote to each other every single day for a few months before I invited Paul to visit me in Ukraine. I had to see him! Paul`s parents were terrified and voted against the trip; they were scared for his life. However, in the face of adversity, Paul persisted. He flew to meet me in Ukraine on November 11, 2002.

Curing pain with the connection.

 I have to admit, our 11 days together in Ukraine at the Black Sea, were by far some of the happiest days in my life. Our connection was instant and electric. What was so unusual, is the fact that for the first time in my life, I felt I truly belong.

I belonged with him. When he held me, when we looked at each other, took walks, talked, snuggled I felt home. My pain of isolation was gone, and it was replaced with a feeling of belonging. I was madly in love.

After Paul returned to the US, I returned to my hometown, Antracit, in the Lugansk region of Ukraine. Following a few months felt like an eternity. We agreed that Paul would file the paperwork needed to apply for a Fiancé, k-1 visa that would allow me to enter the US, as his bride. The visa process took 11 months, and in September 2003 I was scheduled for an interview.

US Embassy Interview.

After waiting for almost a year, undergoing humiliating physical exams, submitting countless documents and files to immigration service, I was scheduled for an interview with US counsel.

My pain of loss and fear of being along returned. Self-doubts in my head whispered: “ You will never get that visa! You just an average girl from a small provincial town. Not you. Not good enough.” I wouldn’t say I liked those weeks leading to interview. It was terrible.

K-1 Visa Issued. 

On the interview day, I arrived at the Embassy in Kiev almost 2 hours before my scheduled interview time. I was so afraid to be late or appear unprepared. To my surprise, my interview went well, and US counsel issued me a visa.

I remember the feeling when I was informed I was approved. I recall crying like a baby at the corner by the US Embassy in Kiev. People may have thought I lost someone, but it was tears of joy, joy, and relief. My fears and pain were gone.

After the interview, I returned to Antracit and had to tell my family that my “web-love” as my mother called it, turned out to be a real thing and the next step is to go to the US to see Paul.

Traveling to the United States.

I flew to the US on November 11, 2003. The day will forever imprint in my heart. Travelling was very stressful and scary. I could not read signs in English at the airports, and since my trip had two stops, I almost missed my plain both times. When our plane landed in Denver airport, I was exhausted, anxious and very excited to see Paul. Somehow, I felt, seeing him in person again and holding him would make it all much better, right away.

The moment of hugging each other in the airport is when I realized I was no longer at home, in Ukraine. I also was no longer in pain, along or lost. I felt I belong with my fiancé. This was when my journey as an immigrant began.

Looking back, I am very grateful that I did not know much about the US, immigration or how I will rebuild my life in the new land. I had no idea what I was up against or what I would need to do. I was 24 years old, out of my mind in love with Paul and I figured all I need in a foreign country is LOVE. Boy, was I wrong!!!!


Pain as a call for action, a symptom of unsatisfied need or a deep longing for something.  Pain is a unique way our body communicates to us a need for a drastic change. Pain also can change your life, like it did mine.

My pain of rejection in high school, the pain of isolation and conflict with my immediate family ultimately led me to immigration. The journey changed me, I became a new person. A person who could do almost anything, fearless, strong and compassionate. A person who embraces discomfort and pain.

During my journey, I was blessed to meet hundreds of incredible people, who also have immigrated. This blog is a tribute to the most courageous, amazing and fearless humans on Earth- immigrants.


P.S. Today, 17.5 years later, I am still married to Paul, and we have three incredible kids together. I am proud to say, despite our turbulent years, as a couple, we have the passion we had when we met for the first time.

My feeling of belonging, when he embraces me is still there, 17.5 years later. My only hope that lord will allow him to live to 150 years, so we can raise our great-grandkids together.

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