"I Cry Every Day:" Ukranian Woman Seeking Safety In Europe Aided by Large Network of Supporters, Including Nebraskans

March 17, 2022, 2:40 p.m. ·

Matthew Wegener, Oksana Iziumava and Christine Womdra sit together at a table in Christine's home. Christine and Matthew give wide grins, while Oksana manages a half-smile looking exhausted.
From Left to right, Oksana Iziumova, Christine Womdra and Matthew Wegener. (Photo captured by William Padmore, Nebraska Public Media News)

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Lincoln Resident Matthew Wegener touched down in Budapest, Hungary last week and described his journey into eastern Europe as an intense one so far. 

While visiting a train station he said he saw crowds of Ukrainian refugees fleeing Russian devastation.

“It’s heartbreaking but also heartwarming at the same time. The volunteer effort and the resources that are trying to be made available to them are phenomenal, but at the same time it's very emotional to see so many people that left everything behind,” Wegener said.

The Lincolnite went to Budapest to escort Oksana Iziumova to a host home in Munich, Germany. Oksana is from the west-Ukrainian port city of Odessa but fled to neighboring Moldova when the war first broke out in late February. After tearful exchanges between Oksana and her daughter Yuliia, a college student who attends Nebraska Wesleyan, it was eventually decided Oksana would leave Moldova and drive across Romania, to Budapest where Wegener, a friend of the family, would meet her and help her get the rest of the way to Munich.

Calling from Vienna, Austria on Wednesday, she said the last few weeks have been hard.

“I am very worried about my house, about my country,” she said. “I cry every day.”

Even though she’s devastated by what’s happened, Oksana said she’s happier now and thankful for the wide network of people who are making sure she gets to Germany safely.

“Many people helped me,” Iziumova said. “In Budapest, in Austria, I met many people who helped me and I am very happy.”

Christine Womdra is one of those people. She sheltered Wegener and Oksana during their time in Vienna.

“Matthew is a friend of my sister,” Womdra said. “She called me last weekend. And she asked me if I would be so nice to help and to give them a home for a few days.”

Womdra said whether she would help was never in question.

“I have a big house and we have much space and why not?” she said. “It's a pleasure for me to do this little thing to help Oksana.”

In the days ahead, Wegener said he would like to get Iziumova a visitor visa, so she can spend some time in the U.S. with her daughter, whom she hasn’t seen in nearly three years.

Oksana said she wouldn’t mind living in the U.S., but said, she’d like to return to Odessa one day.

“I want to live in my country, in my town,” she said. “And today, I don't know what’s better because I don't know when [the war will end].”

Wegener said he’s tentatively scheduled to return to Lincoln on March 24th, but said he’s willing to stay longer if necessary.

To read a companion piece about how Oksana's daughter is processing the Russian invasion from Lincoln, click HERE

For a story about Matthew Wegener's ties to the Iziumovas and why he was inspired to help Oksana, click HERE