One Ukrainian’s escape and how you can help fulfill her dreams

Fifteen months ago, Alina Beskrovna was huddled with her mother and 30 other Ukrainians in a pitch-black basement in Mariupol, as Russian shells rained down and buildings around them collapsed in flames. I didn’t know whether she was alive or dead.

Shortly before the Russian invasion, Beskrovna had been my fearless interpreter and appointment fixer when I reported from the port city. An IT specialist with an MBA from Lehigh University, she never imagined the horrors that lay ahead.

Yet this month, against all odds, after an odyssey that required incredible guts and smarts, Beskrovna is preparing to start a two-year program at Harvard’s prestigious Kennedy School to obtain a master’s degree in international development. She dreamed of attending this program because of its rigorous focus on economic data and practical skills — expertise she wants to use to help rebuild Ukraine after the war ends.

Yet, after overcoming so much — seeing her beautiful city destroyed, losing all her possessions, rescuing her elderly parents, and making it to the United States — Beskrovna still has one huge obstacle to overcome before she can attain her Harvard dream.

Although the Kennedy School has granted her a full-tuition scholarship and a modest living stipend, that amount is far from sufficient to support her and her parents in the Boston metropolitan region, where rents in even the most affordable neighborhoods are astronomical. Getting a job isn’t an option, as her Harvard program discourages working the first year because the course is so demanding.

» READ MORE: My Ukrainian translator survived the Russian military’s Mariupol hell | Trudy Rubin

Beskrovna has put together a GoFundMe appeal to help her and her family make it through the first year, after which she may be able to work. By then, her retired electrician father — who speaks no English and recently had a stroke — may also be able to find work.

Beskrovna’s current need is urgent. At a time when her country is still struggling to end Russia’s brutal invasion, hers is a Ukrainian story that can have a happy ending, with a little help from strangers moved by her courage. I doubt that I could have done what she did to get this far.

Soon after the war started, Beskrovna and her mom, along with their three cats, moved into the basement of a four-story apartment building where a friend lived, joining 31 others. The families brought food supplies from home and slept on pillows or the floor. But soon, with temperatures near freezing, the electricity, water, and gas went out along with the internet. Windows were blocked for safety, so people lived in darkness, unless they dared open the basement door.

“Some days there was constant shelling,” Beskrovna recalled. “Four or five times they hit so close it felt it went into your soul.”

Alina Beskrovna, center, poses with her parents across from the U.S. Capitol. The family escaped from Mariupol in Ukraine and is now in Pennsylvania.. … Read moreCourtesy of Alina Beskrovna

There were no showers, no water for bathing or brushing their teeth. With no toilet, some of the men built a makeshift outhouse in the yard; the alternative was buckets.

Others risked their lives to bring back polluted well water and boiled it outside for drinking. Food also had to be cooked outside over a fire pit, despite the danger of alerting the Russians to their location. Beskrovna recalls stirring a soup base over the fire as shells fell nearby: “It felt like by continuing to cook I was taking charge of my fate.”

After four weeks under constant attack, Beskrovna and her mom decided to risk driving out of the city with a fellow cellar-dweller whose car was still intact. They had to pass through 16 Russian-controlled checkpoints. “At the first, a soldier asked if I was a sniper because I had calluses on my hand from cooking in the open air,” she told me. The men were stripped to search for tattoos the Russians believed would mark them as Nazis.

» READ MORE: An elegy for Mariupol, destroyed by Russian bombs | Trudy Rubin

After making it out of Mariupol, life depended on Beskrovna’s ingenuity, on online messaging apps, and on Good Samaritans.

When Beskrovna and her mom finally crossed from Ukraine into Poland — with their three cats in a beach bag — international volunteer vets gave the cats shots and pet carriers. When Beskrovna published on Facebook that she and her mom needed temporary housing, a Danish executive who traveled frequently invited them to share his three-bedroom apartment for two months gratis while she pursued entry to Canada or the United States.

When Beskrovna sought to rescue her father, who was still hiding in Mariupol, she used the Telegram messaging app to find an underground railroad business that was rescuing people still trapped in the city, where the Russians were blocking any travel to the rest of Ukraine. Her father was driven to the Russian border and coached to tell the border guards he was visiting Moscow. Then he had to travel through Russia to Estonia and finally to Warsaw, where Beskrovna met him and paid her Telegram contact for the job.

Beskrovna is now in Williamsport, Pa., where she and her parents are staying temporarily with her onetime “American parents,” whom she had lived with for a year during a high school exchange. She was admitted to the United States under the government’s temporary two-year humanitarian parole program for Ukrainians fleeing the war.

I asked her how she managed to overcome one impossible challenge after another. “You don’t analyze when you are going through hell,” she told me. “I thought only about how to get us out and as far from Russia as possible.”

Having escaped hell, Beskrovna is hoping to overcome the last challenge that stands between her and Harvard. She just needs a few more Good Samaritans willing to help.

You can contribute to Alina Beskrovna’s GoFundMe campaign at

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