Relatives ran down before they fully cleared security Tuesday night at North Carolina's Raleigh-Durham International Airport to greet them after their exodus from Ukraine to the United States.
"On Wednesday, it was normal life for us," Marchenko said. "On Thursday, everything changed. It was so scary because I have two small children."
Marchenko was met by her two sisters and others with balloons and flowers.
An emotional reunion here at @RDUAirport with a woman who fled #ukraine to be with her sisters here in the Raleigh area. She journeyed from Lviv and all over Europe with her two kids today to come here #abc11 #UkraineRussiaWar pic.twitter.com/HLSf3QguF0— Josh Chapin (@JoshChapinABC11) March 2, 2022
"I'm lucky, but there are so many people in Ukraine even women with children who are not so lucky," she said.
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Marchenko, her children and two other family members started their journey in Kyiv.
Her husband, who cannot leave the country, drove them to Lviv, a city about 300 miles west of the capital. An order from Ukraine's government prohibiting men aged 18- to 60-years-old from leaving the country -- so as to keep them available for military conscription -- means that many women and children must seek safety on their own.
From Lviv, they walked for hours before Polish friends picked them up near the border.
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They then flew from Warsaw to Munich, then Munich to Washington, D.C. before their arrival in Raleigh.
"The husbands are there. Our brothers are there, and our children are there fighting for our freedom," said Ulyana Marchenko, Halyna's sister. "Ukraine is the most peaceful nation in the world."
Here’s a bit more of the reunion. The mom fleeing #Ukraine with her two children to @RaleighGov tonight tells me “I’m lucky but there are so many people in Ukraine including women with children who aren’t so lucky” #UkraineRussiaWar #abc11 pic.twitter.com/V9jTgxmNFU— Josh Chapin (@JoshChapinABC11) March 2, 2022
Their mother is still in their home country. She tells her daughter, "When the sun goes down, I'm scared. Our capital is destroyed."
They were able to get out of harm's way because of the generosity of a local couple who has donated hundreds of thousands of United Airlines miles to help people like Marchenko.
A United Airlines team was also at the airport to greet everybody.
"It's amazing," Marchenko said. "I don't have the words to explain it to you. It's amazing our whole family is together in one place. Now I can sleep."