Anastasiya Inchekel fell in love four times: first with the American who became her husband, then with their two children, then with the United States of America.
She and her twin sister, Aleksandra, were born in Ukraine, a land now alive with the sounds of sporadic gunfire and breaking glass.
Inchekel spent at least part of Mother’s Day with her mother, Irina, and her twin, Aleksandra Pozdniakova, now nine months’ pregnant and due May 29.
Having them here is not only a pleasure but a matter of life and death. Which prompts Inchekel again to talk about her love for America.
Americans take their own goodness for granted, she says. She will never do that.
Not after what happened at Newman University in March.A prayer request
Nursing students at Newman, a Catholic university, meet once a month in a group called the Nurses Christian Fellowship to talk and share prayer requests. Sometimes they organize projects.
Inchekel knew this because she is a junior at Newman studying for a bachelor’s degree in nursing.
One person at that March meeting was Amy Siple, a professor of nursing.
“She never asks me about my nursing class grades,” Inchekel said. “She asks about my life.”
All she wanted at that meeting, Inchekel said later, was to make a prayer request. Asking for more did not occur to her, she said. No one in Ukraine would think to ask for or offer help.
When she spoke, it was in fluent English, with an accent.
Ethnic Russians and Ukrainians, she said later, are people with differing languages who have co-existed peacefully in Ukraine for centuries.
“I have many Russian friends who feel sorry for us Ukrainians,” she said. “It’s the politicians who are causing all this chaos.”
The two cultures are so intertwined that she, her sister and her mother all speak Russian at home, even though they are Ukrainian. Russian is what their mother learned in school.
And that is why, at Newman that night, Inchekel began speaking to fellow Newman students in English, with a Russian accent.Two little words
She told them that she has a twin sister, Aleksandra Pozdniakova, who is 32 weeks’ pregnant.
She said she had just brought Pozdniakova from Ukraine to stay with her, safe from thugs and guns, to have the baby in Wichita. In her country, Inchekel told them, people were getting shot. The Russian army was probably going to come into the country.
“I don’t even know how to help her,” Inchekel told them. “She needs prenatal care. I don’t know where to start.”
“She looked overwhelmed,” said Sarah Durrett, one of the students there that day. “We all wanted to help.”
“I started crying,” Inchekel said later.
Inchekel tried to keep talking, but for a few minutes, she just sobbed.
Inchekel had told her bits of the story earlier in the day, when Siple had noticed her looking preoccupied. So while Inchekel cried, Siple told the students the rest of the story.
She told them that Pozdniakova’s husband, Victor Pozdniakov, had been trained in the Ukrainian army, that he was going to be called up to fight Russians. That he’d agreed to get Pozdniakova out of the country and to safety in the U.S. But Pozdniakova now lived in fear every day that Victor would get killed in Ukraine.
Some of the students knew Inchekel – that she was taking a full class load, 15 credit hours, that she worked two 12-hour shifts a week as a nursing tech at Wesley Medical Center to support herself. That she had a husband and two children. That she’d already brought her mother from Ukraine to live with her years ago after her mother lost her husband.
Some, including Durrett, were concerned now. Pozdniakova was not getting proper prenatal care.
“That’s a big deal,” Durrett said later.
One of the students there that night, Katie Lawski, spoke up. Lawski doesn’t remember everything she said.
But she did say two words: “baby shower.”‘We’ll take care of that’
Inchekel and Pozdniakova were born seven minutes apart 30 years ago, and Inchekel jokes that they have fought each other since.
But when they pose for photographs, they stand shoulder to shoulder, arms entwined. They sit down with their mother, Irina, talking in Russian, with Inchekel trying to translate to English.
She gave up briefly in mock frustration: “These two keep interrupting me.”
Inchekel finished telling what happened that day at Newman with the student nurses.
“After I started to cry, they all laid their hands on me and prayed for me, for my sister, for my family.
“I told them I didn’t know how to get my sister prenatal care or how to pay for it.”
But Siple interrupted again.
“You stop worrying about that,” Siple told her. “We’ll take care of that.”Names of gratitude
And they did.
Siple called the Pregnancy Crisis Center of Wichita.
“They are amazing and kind people who deal with people in crisis who don’t have any money,” Siple said. “They know what to do. They just said send her over and they would take care of things.”
The center called GraceMed, a nonprofit that offers health care to people in need.
Only days after that nurses’ meeting, Pozdniakova had everything she needed for free: prenatal care, maternal care and a spot at Wesley Medical Center when the time comes for Michelle Pozdniakova to be born.
Or will it be Anastasiya Pozdniakova? The twin sisters mock-argue over the name.
Pozdniakova, grateful to Americans, wants to name her daughter Michelle, after Michelle Obama.
“Because Michelle Obama is a strong, powerful woman and a good mother to her children,” she said.
But Victor Pozdniakov, the child’s father, wants to name his daughter Anastasiya, after the sister-in-law who saw to it that his wife and child were safe.
“I like Michelle Obama also,” Inchekel said with a grin. “But I myself like ‘Anastasiya.’ ”Taken for granted
At the baby shower, held one month after fellow student Katie Lawski proposed it, there was food: meat, cheese, chips, punch. Durrett had suggested the food and brought much of it because she worried whether anyone would come.
“I thought maybe only 15 would show up,” she said. “But we had 40.”
The sisters needed two big cars to carry all the shower gifts home. Clothes. Toys. Diapers. Wipes. Shoes. A crib. Much more.
There are still grave dangers for the family, Inchekel said.
Victor is risking jail, avoiding the army draft. He wanted to defend Ukraine, but as Inchekel pointed out, what man in any third-world country should want to fight the Russian army?
“He wanted to join, but my sister said no,” Inchekel said.
And Pozdniakova has to go back to Ukraine only a few weeks after the baby is born, because she is in the United States on a visitor’s visa. The idea of sending her sister and baby back to the chaos of Ukraine gives her chills, Inchekel said.
But there is a lesson in all of this, she said.
“I came here because of freedom,” she said. “Freedom of speech. People are fair. No political corruption, at least not like back home. The mentality is open. People are alive and caring.”
She had felt that way for years, before Russians and Ukrainians fought, before Russian tanks gathered on the border.
She came to the United States in 2003, first to see the country, then to fall in love with her husband. She became a mother to Peter, 9, and Alexander, 5. She became a naturalized citizen.
In that time, she saw that Americans are good, she said. But she also saw that, “at least in my opinion,” many Americans take freedom for granted.
And that’s not all, she said.
When the nursing students at Newman sprang to her side that night and began to help her, it took her aback, she said. She had not wanted anyone to think she was asking for anything.
But the students and Siple that day made it clear that helping people could be a joy.
Inchekel thinks Americans take for granted one other thing: how good Americans are.
“Maybe we people born in foreign countries appreciate it more,” she said.
“I love America.”