“They are safe” : Vail woman is thrilled to be reunited with her Ukrainian family

KMSB News 9-10 p.m. recurring
Published: Jul. 8, 2022 at 10:54 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - A local woman is excited to be living with her Ukrainian family after navigating a confusing immigration process.

On March 2, our KOLD News 13 crew first sat down with Ayna Kekilova in her Vail home. She was filled with despair. USCIS had rejected Kekilova’s request to expedite a petition to sponsor her son and his family.

Aman Babanyyazov, Anastasiia Kunchenko and Jasmine Babanyyazova were living in a southeastern city of Ukraine when Russian troops invaded. They hid in an underground train station for eight hours while bombs rained down. In the first week of the war, the family fled to Germany.

“There’s is no way back,” said Kekilova. “Their home town is occupied right now.”

When the ‘Uniting for Ukraine’ program was established in April, Kekilova submitted an application.

“They approved the baby and wife, but not my son because he has a Turkmen passport,” said Kekilova. “I already had tickets for them and they didn’t have his travel authorization approved. I was constantly calling and emailing Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick. If it wasn’t for her office, my son would probably be somewhere in Europe right now.”

On June 17, Kekilova was reunited with her family at the Tucson Airport.

Now, her home is full of life.

“It’s a happy hassle,” she joked. “It [was all] worth it, at least we know they are safe.”

Kekilova is overwhelmed by the opportunity to hold 10-month-old Jasmine, knowing she is far away from falling rockets.

However, half of her heart will always be in Ukraine. Kekilova’s older granddaughter, 13-year-old Leily Babanyyazova, is still living in the war-torn country.

“We are still worrying about Leily,” she said. “I told her mother they can come here, too, but they wanted to stay. They are in a safer part of Ukraine, they have a little farm with chickens.”

Art sometimes expresses what words cannot. Leily titled her first drawing ‘Ukraine is for Peace’ and the second ‘We Want to Live.’

‘Ukraine is for Peace’  by Leily Babanyyazov
‘Ukraine is for Peace’ by Leily Babanyyazov(Ayna Kekilova)
‘We want to live' by Leily Babanyyazova
‘We want to live' by Leily Babanyyazova(Ayna Kekilova)

“When your granddaughter draws this … yeah, it’s just sad,” Kekilova teared up.

Little Jasmine is also the face of the innocent caught in a brutal war.

As Americans celebrate freedom this week, Kekilova reminds Southern Arizonans that Ukrainians are still fighting to keep their independence.

“Every day kids are dying and elderly people who cannot escape,” she said. “People of Ukraine need help from the world.”

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