‘Hard, but blessed journey’: Ukrainian student makes it to Wayland Baptist University after 2 years

Published: Aug. 24, 2022 at 10:42 PM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - After a challenging journey through a pandemic and war, Ukrainian student Mariia Syzonekno has made it to Plainview to begin her college career at Wayland Baptist University.

Several complications and more than 6,000 miles kept the student from her dream for more than two years, but some Wayland alumni were persistent in getting her to the United States.

Syzonekno grew up in Dnipro, Ukraine, spending time with her family and playing the violin. She says her family spent a lot of time at Central Baptist Church, where her father was the pastor. Syzonekno says it was always her dream to come to the United States for college.

“It was my dream from childhood, as I don’t know people who don’t want to study at U. S., in USA,” she said.

She met Sherman and Tammy Aten, through her church - Wayland Baptist University alumni from Granbury. The two run an international music ministry, and built a relationship with Syzonekno’s family over the past seven years. She says they went from being strangers to being very important people in her life.

After hearing Syzonekno’s dream, Aten decided he would help her get to the United States to study. She was accepted to another Texas university in 2019, but then the pandemic hit.

“Every time when we decide, we solve some problem, just appears some other problem,” Syzonekno said.

Then came another setback, the war on her country. Syzonekno remembers the first night bombs hit outside her city, waking up to her windows shaking and falling back to sleep in disbelief of what was happening. She says her family was uncertain of her city’s future, so she, her mother and sisters decided to flee the country.

“It was really hard for us, but we decided to get to Germany,” she said.

After several months as refugees, when Dnipro became more safe, they decided to return home. Her brother volunteered to fight, and her church went on to help more than 15,000 refugees. Aten knew he had to help get Syzonekno out of the country, and contacted the president of Wayland Baptist.

“He responded to me with, ‘Well, let me see what I can do.’ I thought, well you’re the president, so let’s see what you can do. And then, that was about two months ago and the ball has just been rolling fast and everything has gone in her favor, so it’s perfect timing,” Aten said.

With her father unable to leave the country and her mother staying behind to take care of her sibling, her trek to Texas began with a solo bus ride across the war-torn country to Warsaw, Poland.

“It was a 20-plus hour trip on not the best roads in the world, and somehow through the, escaped any kind of activity, war activity that could have gone on,” Aten said.

Several flights and a car ride home from the Metroplex later, she was greeted with flowers and a smile on the Wayland Baptist campus.

“But now I’m here and I liked it. I had a, I think, hard but blessed journey to Plainview. There are so many people who prayed for me and I really appreciate it,” Syzonekno said.

Aten says the support from West Texas has been overwhelming, as two churches have already donated her first semester tuition.

“What’s been amazing is the people that have just, that don’t even really know us, just know the situation have jumped in to help with her scholarships, the tuition, every need that she’s going to have here, out here at Wayland. And in the area where the people are the best in the world, West Texas,” Aten said.

Syzonekno heads to class Thursday, where she begins her next journey, studying management and marketing.