A 10-year-old girl from Ukraine reunited with a cat in California

As the war in Ukraine continued to escalate, the Bezhenar family made the difficult decision to leave the country in July. They had to leave everything behind – their business, their home and even their pets, which devastated their ten-year-old daughter.

“We couldn’t take any of the animals we have,” Maria Bezhenar, a mother of three, told CBS News. “We asked my brother-in-law to watch the animals and the youngest, Agnessa, cried every time. He says, ‘I want to go home. My animals are there, my cats are there.’ And we couldn’t help her.”

Bezhenar and her husband Aleksander first moved to Romania with their three daughters, Eleanor, Agnessa and Angelina, as well as Bezhenar’s mother. They could only stay temporarily, so they decided to move to the United States. They promised Agness that they would adopt the cat once they got there.

10-year-old Agnessa was devastated when she left her beloved cat Arsenia behind when her family fled Ukraine.

Maria Beznehar

Bezhenar found UkraineTakeShelter.com, a program that helps refugees find housing in the US, and connected with Geoffrey Peters in Cloverdale, California.

Peters has dedicated his life to charitable work and now sits on the board of directors of a non-profit fundraising agency. His most recent mission was helping a family from Ukraine move to the US

“Can you imagine your life being turned upside down and having to leave a country you’ve never left before, fly an airplane you’ve never done before? Come to a new country, learn the language,” Peters told CBS News. “I mean, it’s like starting from scratch, only it’s on steroids. It’s like everything is moving 100 miles an hour.”

Geoffry Peters offered a home to the Bezhenar family after meeting them through a website that connects Ukrainian refugees with housing.

Maria Beznehar

Peters had a second home for the Bezhenars and helped expedite their move to the US. They arrived too quickly, however – Peters and his wife were on holiday when they got there in July.

“The house was empty,” he said. “So we reached out to all our friends in the community here in Cloverdale, California and literally furnished the entire house from top to bottom. Beds for every member of the family, kitchen utensils, dishes, plates.’

His grandchildren greeted the family with signs at the airport and drove them to Cloverdale, where they saw how generous the community was, Bezhenar said, calling the moment “unbelievable.”

Eventually, Peters and his wife arrived home and met the Bezhenars and made a connection. “When we saw them, they became like our father and mother. I call him ‘adoptive father,’” Bezhenar said.

The family has gone through many changes since coming to the US. They got their California driver’s license. The girls enrolled in school – the two oldest in high school. And Aleksander is working on restarting his career selling and installing wallpapers. They even adopted a new cat, but Agnessa still felt that one thing was still missing – their beloved cat Arsenia.

As fate would have it, Bezhenar befriended a flight attendant on his way to the US. She kept in touch with her and asked if she knew anyone who could help.

“I asked her if she knew anything about cats, how cats can fly and what documents cats need. And she says, ‘I really don’t know about it, but my friend, another flight attendant from Hawaii, must know all about it,'” Bezhenar recalls.

The flight attendant connected the family to animal rescue. One of the rescuers was on vacation in Greece and offered to travel to pick up Arsenii and bring him to San Francisco, where the family was reunited with their beloved pet.

Maria Bezenar

The other flight attendant knew people who worked for animal rescue. They contacted someone from the ambulance who was already on vacation in Europe. She volunteered to do some more traveling – pick up Arsenii and bring him all the way to California.

“She just decided to travel to Bucharest to do everything necessary for the cat and bring the cat back to Greece and from Greece to Montreal and from Montreal to Seattle and from Seattle to San Francisco.” It’s been a long journey,” Bezhenar said.

This time, the Bezhenar family was waiting at the airport with signs saying: “Welcome home Arsenia”. Agnessa cried tears of joy.

They left behind many things in Ukraine, but they got a family in California. “We are surrounded by good people here,” Bezhenar said.

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