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Former Miss Ukraine describes terrifying escape from Kyiv and asks US to relax visas for refugees

Didusenko fled Kyiv with her young son shortly after the invasion and was in LA to raise awareness of the plight of refugees and civilians still in Ukraine
Didusenko fled Kyiv with her young son shortly after the invasion and was in LA to raise awareness of the plight of refugees and civilians still in Ukraine   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes
By Tim Gallagher  with AP

A former Miss Ukraine has given a press conference in Los Angeles to draw attention to the plight of Ukrainian refugees.

Seated by feminist lawyer Gloria Allred, Veronika Didusenko described her journey with her young son to escape Kyiv as Russian troops invaded the country last month, and called on countries to do more to arm her countrymen and women.

Didusenko, who was crowned Miss Ukraine in 2018, said she and her 7-year-old son were awoken on the first day of the invasion to the sounds of air raid sirens and explosions, and they joined thousands of others on the road to evacuate.

"On my ... journey to the border of Ukraine, there was no place where sirens would not sound, where rockets and bombs would not explode," she said.

Didusenko told her story at a news conference in the Los Angeles office of women's rights attorney Gloria Allred, who said she became friends with the former beauty queen several months ago.

To date almost 2 million Ukrainians have fled the country in the face of the Russian onslaught.

Escape from Kyiv

Didusenko and her son eventually made it to Moldova and travelled through other European countries before reaching Geneva, Switzerland.

Didusenko said she made the "heartbreaking" decision to leave her son there to travel to the United States to hold the press conference with Allred.

AP /Damian Dovarganes
Gloria Allred, well known for representing women and advocating for feminist causes, thought it was an important case on International Women's DayAP /Damian Dovarganes

Didusenko, dressed in the blue and yellow colours of the Ukrainian flag, said she and Allred decided the situation on the ground in parts of her homeland was an important story to highlight on International Women's Day.

"Right now, millions of Ukrainian children and their mothers are trembling at every sound in the subway stations and bomb shelters. Even more heartbreaking is that women are giving birth in such conditions in these shelters," Didusenko said.

She said her request to get a visa for her son to travel to the U.S. has been rejected. She plans to return to Geneva this weekend to reunite with him. Allred said she was hoping U.S. officials would relax visa policies to allow more Ukrainians to travel here.

Didusenko said Ukrainians are committed to defending their country, but need more help from other nations.

"Ukrainians absolutely have the courage to defend their land and homes, but in order to stop the endless attack from the east and north, they are in desperate need of weapons and ammunition. We will fight for our freedom and yours."