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Stella Binkenvich, a Jewish-American immigrant from Ukraine, says Russia’s invasion has prompted her to reflect on her parents’ decision to come to the United States in 1993, when many believed Russia was on the brink of war.
“My dad feels like, holy sh–. Thank God we made that decision 20-plus years ago,” Binkenvich told Fox News Digital. “I think we both share an overwhelming gratitude for that twist of fate.”
Binkenvich described her former home as a country suffering from heavy inflation and corruption while her own family battled antisemitism and a lack of upward professional mobility before her family immigrated to the U.S. when she was 7 years old. At one point during her childhood in Donetsk, Ukraine, her father had to save five months’ of his salary to buy a new pair of jeans because prices were so astronomically high, leaving people in some professions to suffer while others flourished.
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Today, Ukrainian-Americans feel a sense of “helplessness” for those fleeing their homes and fighting the Russian military, she said, adding, however, that Ukrainians are not necessarily surprised by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions since the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and his actions leading up to the current invasion.
Individual networks of Ukrainian-Americans are working to gather resources to support their friends and family overseas.
“Most of Ukrainian-Russian background have really, really been working to organize and harness our resources here. I know in the networks I have been part of, it’s been incredible,” said Binkenvich, who works as an investment banking associate in fintech M&A.
I really think that there is an overwhelming gratitude for the lives that we have because, in just one decision, I could have been living in Donetsk.
When her family came to the U.S., they were “political refugees that came here based on the legislative process that the Jewish community organized and lobbied for in the U.S.,” she explained, referencing a period when the United States took in Jewish immigrants from the Soviet Union as refugees.
Her family’s decision to move had to do with a lack of “upward mobility for Jews” in Ukraine.
Her parents were not “connected to the government” or “wealthy” in Ukraine. Despite both of her parents holding degrees in computer science, there were “not very many opportunities for upward economic mobility,” Binkenvich said.
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“So that combination of the pervasive antisemitism and economic opportunities basically paved the way for us coming,” Binkenvich explained.
Her parents continued to work in computer programming within a year of moving to the United States despite not speaking English and not knowing anything about American culture. Binkenvvich derives a lot of her own inspiration and work ethic from her parents.
She also credits her family’s successful immigration stories and the success of many Jewish-American immigrant families to New York’s Jewish community.
“To me, that’s a real charge to make this all mean something, and it’s also a story that fuels a lot of … my philanthropic commitments, my political involvement, my drive to stand up for other communities,” she said. She added that while her own parents’ actions were “heroic,” their success “existed in the context of a process that was lobbied and legislated for by the very organized Jewish community here.”
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“And so for that reason, it’s always been very important to me to give back and be part of something bigger than me, and I think this Ukraine crisis is nothing short of that. We have to do something bigger than us because we’re literally seeing an assault on democracy right now,” Binkenvich said.
More than 2.1 million Ukrainians have fled to neighboring countries since Russia invaded on Feb. 24, according to data from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.