Among the estimated 500,000 people to have fled Ukraine are a US couple and their newborn, who very nearly failed to escape as a family after a 39-hour ordeal, per the Orange County Register. Arkansas natives Jessie and Jacob Boeckmann, who now live in Costa Mesa, Calif., knew it was risky to fly to Ukraine on Feb. 13 amid talk of a Russian invasion, but their daughter was due to be born to a Ukrainian surrogate the following day. Vivian wasn't in fact born until Feb. 22, and she remained in a Kyiv hospital as explosions erupted outside. With flights suspended, the couple knew they'd have to leave via Poland, and quick. They didn't even wait for the doctor's discharge order, per the Los Angeles Times.
Armed with Vivian's birth certificate and formula, they hired a driver to take the family more than 300 miles to the Polish border on Thursday. The drive was expected to take no more than seven hours. But four hours in, they were only just getting out of Kyiv and its traffic jams. When they finally did reach the border at 2am Friday, traffic was unmoving. They stayed in the car until 9:30am, then decided to walk the remaining 8 miles in freezing temperatures, with 4-day-old Vivian wrapped in a carrier. "This could be the worst decision I've ever made," Jessie recalls thinking, per the Times. It wasn't until 5pm that the huge crowd of refugees allowed Jessie and Vivian to pass through the gate, per the Register. Jacob, who was carrying Jessie and Vivian's papers, was left behind.
The family later realized border guards were only allowing women and children to pass through, though US Embassy officials had assured Jacob that he would be able to enter Poland with his US passport. One guard claimed Jacob's passport was fake. Another threw him against the steel gate, the Times reports. Finally, Jacob was identified by a guard who'd received his photo from the US Embassy and allowed to join his wife and daughter five hours after their separation and 39 hours after they'd first set out from Kyiv, per the Register. They were expected to fly to Los Angeles early Tuesday. They're grateful but feeling for those left behind, including their surrogate, a mother of two whose apartment was bombed. Her husband is now "going to war," Jessie tells the Register. (Read more Ukraine stories.)