'When Arsenii is with us, it's like home is with us. Like part of our home is with us,' the family shared.
Thanks to an incredible international rescue effort, a heartbroken 10-year-old Ukrainian refugee has been reunited with her beloved cat. Young Agnessa and her family had to flee their hometown of Odesa when Russian forces swept across the border into Ukraine, reports KRON. The family left just about everything behind, including Agnessa's beloved cat Arsenii.
"There was no room for any animal we have," said Maria Bezhenar, the girl's mother. After spending a few weeks in Romania, the family was allowed to enter the United States. It was on their way to San Francisco that they made acquaintance with Dee Harnish, a flight attendant, who would ultimately launch efforts to reunite Agnessa with her furry friend.
There were tears and smiles, hugs and balloons at SFO when 10-year-old Agnessa was finally reunited with her beloved cat Arsenii. https://t.co/kgZz8dUkJg— KRON4 News (@kron4news) September 28, 2022
"I once left Germany and I know what it's like to go to another country and not know anyone or anywhere and I just felt this sense of connection with her," Harnish explained. She stayed in touch with the family after they arrived in the Bay Area. "I messaged her and said, 'So how are you? How's America treating you, is everything ok?' And she said, 'Yes, everything is good. Except my youngest daughter wants to go home. She cries every day because she's missing her cat,'" Harnish recalled. "She missed sleeping with her cat and she missed hugging him, she missed everything about the cat because she had grown up with him," Bezhenar explained.
Several people worked to reunite a cat with a little girl who had fled Ukraine to the Bay Area. Check out this incredible story. https://t.co/sCNvkAiUzH— KRON4 News (@kron4news) September 21, 2022
Wanting to help the little girl feel better, Harnish shared the news with another flight attendant, Caroline Viola, who rescues animals. "She just sent me a text and asked if there was anything I could do to help with that huge request," Viola shared. "And all I could think of was 'My God, we got a war-torn country here, and you want me to get a cat out of Ukraine?'" Despite the seemingly impossible challenge ahead of her, Viola started working on the rescue plan from her home in Hawaii. She got in touch with Angelica Chavez-Etchechury, an animal rescuer in Houston.
"And I said, 'Well if you get that cat out of Ukraine, that's a piece of cake.' You know, get that cat back. The issue was to get him out of Ukraine," said Chavez-Etchechury. Driven by the glimmer of hope that had presented itself, Bezhenar's brother-in-law—who was watching the cat in Ukraine—laid the groundwork for the rescue. He took Arsenii on his motorcycle across the Ukraine border to Moldova where he passed the feline to a driver, who took him and a refugee family to Romania. Arsenii spent about a month with a family in Bucharest while the rest of the rescue plan fell into place. It was at this point that Agnessa was finally informed she might soon be reunited with her beloved cat. "So I say, 'Ok, let's pray but I cannot promise that it can happen,'" Bezhenar recounted. "She was happy and she says, 'He will come. He will definitely come. Just believe.'"
Animal rescuer Mimi Kate, who was on vacation in Greece, cut her trip short to pick up Arsenii in Bucharest and bring him home. However, his Ukrainian documents wouldn't allow Arsenii on a flight from Romania. "All the documents must be checked for him in Romania because he just, moved from the country which is not European Union," Bezhenar said. Finally, a tuk-tuk driver volunteered to help and after getting his documents in order, the cat finally made his way to Athens, followed by Montreal and then Kate's home in Seattle before he reunited with Agnessa at San Francisco International Airport late last month. "When Arsenii is with us, it's like home is with us. Like part of our home is with us," said Bezhenar.