Call me cheesy, but despite the polarization in our country, despite our disgusting political system and despite the fact that we’ve got plenty of flaws, America is still a good place to live and most Americans are good people.
I’m reminded of how lucky we have it here when I see photos of Uyghurs lined up by the thousands with their dead eyes in China’s concentration camps, and when I see clips of ghoulish Putin cronies on Russian state TV gleefully cackling at footage of destroyed Ukrainian hospitals, and laughing as they talk about drowning Ukrainian children.
I’m reminded of it in a much more hopeful way when I read stories like this one about 10-year-old Ukrainian Agnessa Bezhenar, whose family fled their war-torn country, spent time in Romania as refugees and eventually ended up in California.
Not only did Agnessa have to leave the only country she’d ever known and adjust to two foreign countries, and not only does she have to learn a new language and adjust to a new school, but her heart’s been broken since she had to leave behind her cat, Arsenii.
Thanks to the efforts of two kind flight attendants, a volunteer at an animal rescue and her supportive new community in Cloverdale, Cali., Agnessa was finally reunited with Arsenii, a silver tabby with decidedly Buddesian looks. (No wonder Agnessa loves him so much!)
Geoffry Peters, the Californian who provided his second home to the Bezhenar family, also helped arrange to have Arsenii brought to the US.
“Can you imagine your life being turned upside down and you have to leave a country you’ve never left before, ride on an airplane you’ve never done before? Arrive in a new country, learn a language,” Peters told CBS News. “I mean, it’s like starting from scratch, only it’s on steroids. It’s like everything moving 100 miles an hour.”
Peters connected with the family through a program that helps Ukrainian refugees find homes in the US.
“Maria [Bezhenar] sent an email saying we’ve been matched and we have a family of six,” Peters said. “And so I went to my son and I said instead of renting this house, which he was planning on doing, would you be willing to donate it for two years?”
A flight attendant the Bezhenars met en route to the US connected the family with a fellow flight attendant who does animal rescue and recommended a local animal non-profit. When the staff at that rescue were told about Agnessa’s predicament, they contacted a colleague who was vacationing in Greece. That colleague agreed to travel to Bucharest, where Agnessa’s uncle had stayed behind and was caring for Arsenii. (A Ukrainian version of the Greek name Arsenios.)
The colleague brought Arsenii to California, a trip that took human and cat from Bucharest to Greece to Montreal, then Seattle and finally to Cloverdale. In all, Arsenii traveled more than 7,000 miles to be reunited with Agnessa.
Much like the Bezhenar family had arrived in the US to find Cloverdale locals holding up signs welcoming them to the US, the Bezhenars greeted Arsenii with their own signs — and lots of tears — when his long journey was finally over.
It’s been a rough year filled with trauma for the Bezhenar family, but they’ve found a new community, new friends like Peters, and have the support of people in Cloverdale, who worked together to make sure the Bezhenar’s new home was furnished when they moved in. They even got a piano for the home after hearing the kids liked to play.
After her daughter was reunited with Arsenii — and began sleeping better with the comfort of the little guy snoozing next to her every night — her mother Maria reflected on her family’s new community in Cloverdale.
“We are surrounded by good people here.”