As the war incontinued to escalate, the Bezhenar family made the difficult decision to leave the country in July. They had to leave everything behind – their business, their home, and even their pets, which devastated their 10-year-old daughter.
“We could not take any animals that we have,” Maria Bezhenar, a mom of three, told CBS News. “We asked my brother-in-law to watch over the animals and the youngest one, Agnessa, she was crying every time. She says, ‘I want to go back home. My animals are there, my cats are there.’ And we couldn’t help her.”
Bezhenar and her husband, Aleksander, first moved to Romania with their three daughters, Eleanor, Agnessa, and Angelina, as well as Bezhenar’s mother. They could only stay temporarily, so, they decided to move to the United States. They promised Agnessa they would adopt a cat once they got there.
Bezhenar found a program, UkraineTakeShelter.com, which helps refugees find housing in the U.S., and she connected with Geoffry Peters in Cloverdale, California.
Peters has dedicated his life to working for charities, and is now on the board of a fundraising agency for nonprofits. His newest mission was helping a family from Ukraine move to the U.S.
“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 had a second home for the Bezhenars and helped them expedite their move to the U.S. But they arrived a little too quickly – Peters and his wife were on vacation when they got there in July.
“The house was an empty house,” he said. “So, we contacted all of our friends in the community here in Cloverdale, California and literally they furnished the entire house from top to bottom. Beds for every person in the family, kitchenware, utensils, plates.”
His grandchildren greeted the family with signs at the airport and drove them to Cloverdale, where they saw how generous the community had been, Bezhenar said, calling the moment “unbelievable.”
Eventually, Peters and his wife arrived home and met the Bezhenars, and they formed a connection. “When we saw them, they became like our father and mother. I call him ‘adoptive father,'” Bezhenar said.
Since coming to the U.S., the family has made many changes. They’ve gotten their California drivers licenses. The girls have enrolled in school — the two eldest in junior college. And Aleksander is working to restart his career selling and installing wallpaper. They even adopted a new cat, but Agnessa still felt one thing was still missing — their beloved cat, Arsenii.
As fate would have it, Bezhenar befriended a flight attendant on the way to the U.S.. She kept in touch with her and asked if she knew anyone who could help.
“I asked her if she knows something about the cats, how cats can fly and what documents cats need. And she says, ‘I don’t really know about this, but my friend who is another flight attendant from Hawaii, she must know everything about that,'” Bezhenar recalls.
That second flight attendant knew people who worked for an animal rescue. They contacted someone from the rescue, who was already in Europe on vacation. She volunteered to tack on some extra travel — to pick up Arsenii, bringing him to all the way to California.
“She just decided to travel to Bucharest to do everything needed for the cat, and she brought the cat back to Greece and from Greece to Montreal and from Montreal to Seattle and from Seattle to San Francisco. That was a long journey,” Bezhenar said.
This time, the Bezhenar family were the ones waiting at the airport with signs: “Welcome home Arsenii.” Agnessa cried tears of joy.
They left many things behind in Ukraine, but in California, they gained family. “We are surrounded by good people here,” Bezhenar said.