Ozarkers can come from anywhere — even Ukraine

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Yelena Bosovik (back row, second from left) and her family ultimately moved to Springfield to escape religious persecution in Ukraine. 

Religious persecution isn’t something that Ozarkers deal with on a daily basis. At least, not really. News stories report the lives of people living a world away — but few people around these parts fear being arrested for going to church or know the terror of saying things the government doesn’t approve of. Even fewer have nearly lost family members for such reasons.

But some do, and Yelena Bosovik is one of those people. “I was born in Ukraine,” says Yelena, whose family immigrated when she was a child. “We moved to the United States as refugees to escape religious persecution.”

And she’s not alone. Nearly 1,000 Ukrainian and Russian immigrants live in Springfield and the surrounding area for the same reason.

Before the move
Yelena’s native Ukraine wasn’t an easy place to grow up as a Christian. She notes her grandfather, a pastor of a church for 40 years, who was put on trial several times for his religious beliefs. Later, his church building was confiscated by the government for use as a Communist academy. And one generation before that, her family paid an even greater price. “My great-grandpa served 15 years in a Siberian work camp for his beliefs,” says Yelena.

Those were the days when “you would pretty much have to meet at night,” says Yelena. Women would smuggle gospel tracks in their pinned-up hair, and when meetings were held, “they would shut off the windows with pillows and…pray and speak in a whisper so no neighbors would hear.”

The fall of the Communist regime in 1991 offered some hope that things might begin to change. Unfortunately, things didn’t happen fast enough. “Politically and technically it fell apart, but the people who were in power then were still in power, they just weren’t operating underneath the Communist party anymore,” says Yelena.

After Yelena’s dad spent several days in jail on trumped-up charges related to the church bus, he decided enough was enough. “A few days after he got out of jail, he filed for asylum,” says Yelena. “Within a year, we moved to the U.S.”