LOS ANGELES - It was the escape no one wanted to believe was happening. But it was, and with great urgency.
As sirens blared at 5 a.m., 23-year-old Veronika Vozna and 19-year-old Tony Voznyi, their parents and two friends hurriedly packed a few possessions into a car and fled Kiev. They were running for their lives as Russia invaded Ukraine.
The siblings shared their frightening account with FOX 11 calmly, sitting in their grandparents living room sofa in Redondo Beach on Friday. For them, last week had been anything but calm. Along the route from Kiev to Slovakia, Veronika chronicled the group’s terrifying ordeal on her cell phone.
Earlier Friday, FOX 11 cameras exclusively captured the reunion between the siblings and their grandparents at LAX. As you can imagine, there were plenty of hugs, smiles and kisses. The brother and sister, who are Ukrainian but have ties to the US, arrived safely back on US soil.
FOX 11’s Laura Diaz first learned of their plight from their grandmother, Areta Fielstra, while attending Sunday services at the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church in Hollywood.
"I haven’t been able to eat or sleep. My grandkids are sleeping in the car, not enough food, desperately trying to get across the border," Fielstra said.
We kept in contact. Eventually, she reported the happy news, they had made it safely across the border.
Veronika, a rhythmic gymnast and model, had been in Ukraine for about a year visiting her parents and best friends as she competed in beauty contests in the country. But the ugliness of war abruptly ended her visit.
Younger brother Tony, who is an inexperienced driver, was forced to get behind the wheel and give his dad a break from driving. The route they chose was circuitous, designed to avoid the most dangerous path. Gas was nearly impossible to find, food and sleep hard to come by. But they forged ahead.
"I was crying and praying to get there safe. But what else can you do? I had no choice. Take it or leave it," Veronika told FOX 11.
For young Tony, the stressful car ride was a turning point in his life. He described bombs flying in the distance and fear close at hand.
"Someone needed to be calm and brave. I couldn’t panic. I said to my mom, look straight and drive. We have to get there."
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