Months After Russia Launched a War on Their Country, a Mother and Daughter Reunite in Lincoln

19 May 2022, 10 a.m. ·

Oksana and Yuliia Iziumova with Matthew Wegener and friends
Oksansa and Yuliia Izimuvova pose with Matthew Wegener and his family (Photo by William Padmore, Nebraska Public Media News)

Yuliia Iziumova was equal parts nervous and excited as she waits in the lobby of the Lincoln Airport Wednesday night.

The Wesleyan junior bounced on the balls of her feet and spoke in an upbeat tone, never straying too far from a homemade “welcome” sign, decorated with blue and yellow paper flowers.

The moment she was waiting for was almost here.

Yuliia is waiting for her mom, Oksana. Yuliia hasn't seen her mother in person since leaving Ukraine for college three years ago.

A few minutes of anxious chatter and finally, the moment arrives.

Shrieks of joy turn into silent sobs as Oksana runs through the gate and into Yuliia's arms.

It's been a long journey. Oksana left her home in western Ukraine in the opening days of the Russian invasion and has been on the move ever since. She’s crossed Moldova, Hungary, and Austria. The plan was for her to eventually live with a host family in Germany. That all changed when the Biden Administration announced the “Unite for Ukraine” initiative near the end of April, which allows for fast-tracked visas for up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees.

Oksana didn't come alone. With her is Matthew Wegener, a Lincoln man who traveled to Hungary to support Oksana and help her navigate various visa applications. He was only supposed to be gone for two weeks. It’s been two months since he left.

“I guess, just there was always a little bit of hope that something was going to happen in the next week and then it didn't," said Wegener. "I was going to come home and then I got COVID. And so I got stuck there for another week." Wegener says it was around that time when Biden announced the "Unite for Ukrain initiative." "So then we stuck around for one more week, and everything came together,” said Wegener.

Waiting for him at the airport is his wife, child, and parents. His mom holds up a poster in the colors of the Ukrainian flag with the words "Thank You Matthew". Wegener, who at one time hosted Yuliia when she was an exchange student in high school, will now host Oksana in the same room Yuliia once occupied.

“It just makes sense,” he said.

Oksana is all smiles. When we first spoke weeks ago, she told me her situation made her cry every day. Today, the only tears were tears of joy.

"Today I am happy," she said.