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2 sisters share their plans to unite after fleeing Ukraine


Now a family that is split by the war in Ukraine. Kira Manilich and her husband Volodymyr had been hoping to immigrate to the U.S. since last October. They even got the chance to apply for what's called a diversity visa. But then Russia invaded. She left with her son six weeks ago while her husband stayed on in Ukraine, along with other adult men in case he's needed for the military. Kira Manilich joins us now from the south of Italy, along with her sister, Lena Manilich, who is in New York. Welcome to you both.

LENA MANILICH: Hi. Thank you for having us.

KIRA MANILICH: Hi. Thank you.

SIMON: And, Lena Manilich, you came to the U.S. before the war. Why?

L MANILICH: I was so lucky. I came to the states five years ago, and I was also the one who won green card lottery - diversity visa lottery.

SIMON: Kira Manilich, why did you leave? What was life like there at the time you left? Maybe Lena Manilich, you can help us out with the answer.

L MANILICH: Mmm hmm.

K MANILICH: (Speaking Ukrainian).

L MANILICH: So few days after the war started, we started hearing sirens all the time. And I really didn't want to leave, but I was thinking about safety of my son. So that's why I made this very hard decision. And in the middle of the night, we packed the - all necessary stuff and we decided to go to the border. My parents and my husband is still there. My parents cannot leave - my husband as well - because of the military state in the country. That was the decision I made, and we went to Italy.

SIMON: Are you able to check in with your husband and your parents?

K MANILICH: (Speaking Ukrainian).

L MANILICH: Yes. I can talk to them often on the phone. We're talking. I'm checking on them. That is good that it's available. But emotionally, it's very hard.

SIMON: It must be hard to talk to them knowing that they're still in danger.

K MANILICH: (Speaking Ukrainian).

L MANILICH: Yes, especially when I know - and I know every time when there are sirens in my home city. So I text them all the time, how are you? Is everything fine? That's really hard.

SIMON: I understand your husband won what's called a diversity visa last year. These are visas given to citizens of countries with low immigration numbers, which Ukraine used to have. But getting a visa interview at the U.S. Consulate was difficult, I gather.

K MANILICH: Yes, it's difficult to get this visa because my husband is living in Ukraine. He's a main applicant. Even if I have a date with interview, I can't go there.

L MANILICH: Can I add something?

SIMON: Yeah. Well, you're an immigration attorney, we should explain, too, Lena.

L MANILICH: Yes. So as Kira properly said, since all of this happened and there were no embassy - there is no embassy at this time in Ukraine - all of the immigration cases were transferred to Frankfurt. Kira is waiting to get the date of the interview, but since her husband is of military age, he cannot leave to go for the interview.

SIMON: Oh, mercy. Kira, would you want to come to the United States without your husband - just you and your son?

K MANILICH: (Speaking Ukrainian).

L MANILICH: I would really want to come to the States, and my husband wanted that as well. But then we decided that I'm going to wait for him where it's closer, meaning, like, in Italy. And then we can - hopefully we both will be able to come to the States.

SIMON: Lena, let me turn to you as an immigration attorney. Does it seem to you like they'll have to wait until the end of the war, whenever that is?

L MANILICH: As of now, they're extending this period every 30 days where they don't let men out of the country. So I really hope - that's my wish and prayers - that it's going to end and he will be able to leave because otherwise, yeah, he'll have to wait.

SIMON: Is there a time limit on the visa?

L MANILICH: Yeah. Diversity visa - they're giving visas only until the end of the fiscal year, which ends September 30. So if they won't be able to get into the embassy until then, they will just - won't be able to get their chance to get the visa that they won in the lottery.

SIMON: Kira, how are you getting along in Italy?

K MANILICH: (Speaking Ukrainian).

L MANILICH: I'm staying in south Italy at this time. It's near the sea. So usually in summer there are a lot of people, but now there is literally no one in that town. So we're staying here. We are doing some errands, like walk a lot. We're trying to - not to read news because it's really hard and sad. But since we're staying here for some time already, my son will go to day care starting next Monday.

SIMON: You try not to watch too much of the news from your homeland, I gather.

K MANILICH: I try, but I can't stop reading because it's my country, my family. It's my home. It's so hard.

SIMON: Kira Manilich in Italy and Lena Manilich, her sister in New York City, thank you both very much, and good luck to you.

K MANILICH: Thank you so much.

L MANILICH: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.