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Russian immigrant ends sanctuary in church after nearly 3 years


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    NORTHAMPTON, Massachusetts (WGGB, WSHM) — There was major development Thursday for a Russian immigrant who entered sanctuary in western Massachusetts nearly three years ago. Irida Kakhtiranova left the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence this afternoon, hoping to seek legal residency.

“Now, I’m going home,” Kakhtiranova said.

Kakhtirnova shared her feelings on Thursday after she finally felt safe to walk out the doors of the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence almost three years after she took refuge there. The Russian mother of three entered sanctuary as she faced deportation under Trump administration immigration policies, but things have changed with the Biden administration.

Kakhtirnova’s case was reopened by the Board of Immigration Appeals this week. She said her family has been her motivation leading up to this day.

“Our love and relationship helped us carry our children through those really dark times. It was really hard and tough for all five of us. Depression and anxiety, tears and fear of separation have weighed on us in a big way,” Kakhtirnova added.

Kakhtirnova came to the United States in 2003. She left sanctuary as she and her husband celebrate their 17th wedding anniversary. She said the notion that it takes a village to raise a child goes beyond that for her.

“…And my village is composed of outstanding people…who came together to help me keep my family together and do everything possible to make it work,” Kakhtirnova said.

Also in attendance Thursday was Lucio Perez, who left sanctuary last month in Amherst. He bumped elbows for the first time with Kakhtirnova.

“It was really incredible. I never met her in person. I only met her on Zoom or something else like that,” Perez said through a translator.

Perez left sanctuary on March 13. Now, Kakhtirnova will be able to experience what he has over the past two and a half weeks – being able to walk around with no worries.

“We just feel so much freeer, to be able to be outside, to be able to walk, but to be able to know we’re not going to be arrested,” Perez added.

Kakhtirnova said, “So I say thank you all we did it. We did it.”

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