Ukrainians left in limbo after arriving in South Florida before Russian invasion

A couple and their 3-year-old son were on vacation in South Florida when the Russians invaded Ukraine.

SUNNY ISLES BEACH, Fla. – Lenny Kochkin came to South Florida from Ukraine on vacation with his wife, Marina, and their 3-year-old son Mark in early February.

Then the Russians invaded their home country, leaving Lenny and his family in limbo not knowing when they will be able to return home.

“I am (stranded) here. I end up to be a refugee,” he said. “What am I going to do in the near future? I don’t have a plan yet if you know what I mean?”

Lenny worries about his adult daughter who is still in Ukraine. His home in the outskirts of Kyiv has become a bomb shelter for friends to take cover in his cellar.

“There are about seven people there now in my house. I have given them shelter just to try to save their life,” he said.

But every day for his daughter and his friends is more frightening and devastating than the one before.

“My daughter and some other people, my friends, they can now distinguish one missile from the other just by the noise.”

Igor Zamaraiev is from the western Ukrainian city of Lviv. Anticipating Russian aggression, he came to South Florida and started working as a server to support his brother and mother back in Ukraine.

“I talk to her every day . . . a couple of times a day she goes to the basement to hide when they have an attack,” he said.

Now he’s also waiting tables to send money to family members who have fled to Poland as the conflict creates refugees of their family. Zamaraiev’s loved ones are now dispersed across two continents.

“Putin is not going to stop,” Zamaraiev said. “And if we are not going to stop him, he is going to go further.”

The Ukrainians in South Florida said that each day is a grueling waiting game. Zamaraiev said he wakes up in the middle of the night to check on his family members.

He hopes that help arrives in time to save their lives and their country.

About the Author:

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."