An Anderson nurse returns from Eastern Europe - and Mexico - amid the Ukraine refugee crisis
I first met Tali Osipov over the phone back in March. She was the person her church, Summer of God Slavic Evangelical Church in Anderson, SC, charged with speaking to the press about its fundraising and on-scene efforts in Eastern Europe to help Ukrainian war refugees make it to safety. It included an avowal from Tali that she was about to go to Romania herself.
The story that began with that conversation led to numerous texts. Over the ensuing weeks, we occasionally caught up to talk about what Tali was seeing in Romania. Her most moving text started with the words, “It is tragic.” She recounted how moneyless people had put their fates in the hands of strangers; how despite that she had kept up daily with church members, family, and friends in her family’s home city of Kharkiv, she was not prepared for the river of displaced, dispossessed humanity that flooded the rail station in Bucharest where she had gone.
A couple weeks later, I texted Tali to ask if she was back. She was. But was also just about to leave for Mexico. That’s where the “lucky” refugees – the ones who had the financial means to get out of Europe and find at least temporary respite in the United States, and the ones who had American sponsors who could get them here – were heading. She was going to help medically (she’s a critical care nurse) in the less-chaotic way stations on the US border.
We agreed to talk when she got back.
The first time I met Tali in person, a few weeks after her Mexico trip, I was immediately taken aback by her age. I’d been expecting someone of 37 or 40. Instead, shaking my hand at a coffeeshop in Anderson was a 23-year-old, “fresh out of college,” as she put it.
The ensuing hour revealed a mix of horrors and hope that is rare to come by. What Tali saw – and smelled, helping to process hundreds of tightly packed humans who have not been near running water or soap in weeks – stuck to her. There were mothers who couldn’t extend their arms because they’d been clenching their children without reprieve; young women and girls who shook in the corners, terrified most of the male volunteers because the men these young ladies had encountered in their flight were often either soldiers willing to kill them or traffickers willing to sell them into sexual slavery.
But there was not anger. There was sadness, confusion, incomprehension. But anger? No. Tali does not recall a single person who was angry. They were, instead, exceedingly grateful to the people who were there to help them through the worst.
For Tali, being there to help people in flight was a kind of payback. A few decades ago, members of her family took advantage of a religious refugee visa offered by the United States to certain persecuted religious persons in what were then Soviet Socialist Republics. Today, the children of those immigrants are in their 20s and 30s, and, Tali says, are the ones helping refugees from Ukraine who, without stretching credulity even a little, “could have been us.”
Tali sees her role in helping not as heroic, but rather as an answer to a call from God. She feels she was put here, when and where she was, for a purpose like this. And between her faith that she is part of a larger plan and having borne witness to the faith and prayers of refugees who had every right to be angry and hopeless – but were not – she has returned to South Carolina with a deepened connection with God, and a profound understanding that one never knows what another is going through.
Her advice: Hold onto your compassion.
“It’s the only thing that’ll keep us going,” she says. “It’s the only thing keeping me going.”