Tetiana Perepechina and Cathy Booth Vaughan. Photo by Carmel de Bertaut.
Tetiana Perepechina and Cathy Booth Vaughan. Photo by Carmel de Bertaut.

On June 2, day 100 of the Ukraine war, Ukrainian citizen Tetiana Perepechina sat down at Ridgemark in Hollister, with BenitoLink to tell her story. She had fled Russian

Tetiana and Cheryl Vaughan Booth. Photo by Cathy Booth Vaughan.
Tetiana and Cheryl Vaughan Booth. Photo by Cathy Booth Vaughan.

forces in Crimea, and then Kyiv. It’s a story of fear and sadness, but one of strength and determination. 

Perepechina has been in Hollister since May 20. She was able to connect with two Hollister residents through an organization that is helping to temporarily place fleeing Ukranians.

Fighting back tears at times and letting them fall when they could not be held, 27-year-old Perepechina recounted how eight years ago her family left Crimea when Russian forces invaded. She and her family then settled in Kyiv, where Perepechina worked in the hospitality industry until Russian forces again uprooted her earlier this year.

She said when the current invasion began there was confusion about what would happen next, so people went to bed wearing their daytime clothes in case there was an attack during the night. 

“I remember the first day the war started, I was sleeping, I woke up to a strong explosion.” After a second explosion she looked out the window to see people running with suitcases, fleeing for their lives. She said she began to receive phone calls from her family telling her to get out. 

Tetiana's father, mother and sister. Photo courtesy of Tetiana Perepechina.
Tetiana’s father, mother and sister. Photo courtesy of Tetiana Perepechina.

She packed clothes and her important documents, then headed with her cat to her mother’s house outside of Kyiv. The trip, which usually would take 1.5 hours, took five hours. During the journey the sound of sirens was never far away. She said this sound still paralyzes her. 

“For the first week it was super scary, a lot of panic because you do not know what to do.” At her family’s home the basement was prepared and stocked for the long haul. Perepechina said her family offered to house anyone who did not have a safe space to stay.

She did return to Kyiv for a short time and worked at a hotel where journalists and others were staying. They hid when they needed to but they also made meals for the nearby army hospital and for people who were hungry and unable to leave the city. “This helped me to go through it,” Perepechina said of the experience. 

As Russian forces were closing in, she said she felt nowhere in Ukraine was safe. Nobody could relax. “Something will happen next and you don’t know when or where,” she said. “They took so many lives. Every Ukrainian has someone they lost. They took everything.”  

When power was cut off, there was no water, but the community maintained their strength by helping each other. Putting their lives at risk, Perepechina and her mother rescued pets that were left behind, taking those four-legged casualties of war into their home. 

The war continued to rage. Her job was gone and since her father’s death, just before the invasion began, Perepechina was the breadwinner. She said she knew she needed to leave because it was too dangerous and jobs were scarce. Through the organization icanhelp.host, which matches hosts with Ukrainians wanting to flee, Perepechina met Hollister residents and partners Cathy Booth Vaughan and Cheryl Vaughan Booth. Booth Vaughan told BenitoLink she and Vaughan Booth “just wanted to help” in whatever way they could. For them, helping meant welcoming Perepechina into their home, giving her emotional support and physical safety. 

At 1 p.m. on May 20, Perepechina fled Kyiv by way of a harrowing train ride. The train was packed—seats meant for four people were holding eight or nine. There were several long stops to let people on but this increased fear because there was no way to know who had stopped the train. 

From there she arrived in Warsaw, Poland, before going to Frankfurt, Germany, to board a plane for San Francisco, arriving at 6 p.m. on May 23. The final leg of her journey was by car from SFO to Hollister. Now she could begin to release some of the stress. She could breathe and put emotional and physical distance between herself and the bomb blasts, the sirens, the terror and the death. 

Perepechina said being here she feels safe, adding, “People here are very welcoming.” She said because of Vaughan Booth and Booth Vaughan, her U.S. “Mommys,” she feels “very comfortable. It feels like people really care about what is going on in Ukraine.”  

Tetiana in Tahoe. Photo courtesy of Cathy Booth Vaughan Booth.
Tetiana in Tahoe. Photo courtesy of Cathy Booth Vaughan Booth.

However, Booth Vaughan said that they took Perepechina to Tahoe a few days after her arrival for more peace and quiet, but as planes flew overhead she could see Perepechina’s fears return. She said she sees Perepechina’s traumatic reaction to the sound of sirens, even to the sound of garbage trucks backing up.

Perepechina is here on a tourist visa, which grants a maximum six-month stay, and has been in contact with an immigration lawyer who said getting a work visa could be difficult, as she does not qualify for refugee or political asylum status. 

She is concerned about helping her family, especially her nine-year-old sister Melania, who she feels is her responsibility. Booth Vaughan told BenitoLink that Perepechina told them, “My No. 1 priority is my little sister.” 

“Kids do not deserve this,” Perepechina told BenitoLink. 

They have contacted Congressman Jimmy Panetta’s office because, according to Booth Vaughan, he had said if anyone needed help with Ukrainian issues to reach out to him. Panetta’s office told them they would get an email with a list of resources. On June 9, Booth Vaughan said they did receive an email but they had already found the resources online.


 We need your help. Support local, nonprofit news! BenitoLink is a nonprofit news website that reports on San Benito County. Our team is committed to this community and providing essential, accurate information to our fellow residents. It is expensive to produce local news and community support is what keeps the news flowing. Please consider supporting BenitoLink, San Benito County’s public service, nonprofit news.

Carmel has a BA in Natural Sciences/Biodiversity Stewardship from San Jose State University and an AA in Communications Studies from West Valley Community College and she reports on science and the environment....