COLUMBIA, Tenn. (WTVF) — It can be an unusual path that leads us to the people who change our lives forever. That's certainly the case for a Columbia couple. Their story involves big decisions, family, and the confirmation that good people are all over the world.
"These are pictures of Cartagena," said Gary Fisher, flipping through vacation pictures on his phone. "There's a lot of churches there."
"It was a great trip," smiled wife Jean.
A great vacation deserves a lot of pictures, and Gary and Jean got them from a Princess Cruise in January 2020. The great pictures include one of a young woman they first met working at a jewelry store on the ship.
"Alina Lytvynenko," Gary said, pointing to the picture. "This little monkey jumped on her lap and grabbed her water bottle. So, she took the top off the bottle and was giving her drinks of water out of that."
The Fishers taking this picture led to a friendship with Alina. They all kept in touch.
"We kinda have rough seas, so the ship is moving and rocking a little bit," Alina said, speaking to Gary and Jean through a Facebook video messenger.
It's been since December that Alina has seen her family or their home in Ukraine.
Most of us here have just seen the images and read articles about a war happening more than 5,000 miles away.
"It's easy to look at TV and say, 'that's terrible' and turn it off and forget it," said Jean.
"To be honest, I stopped being active into the news cause I can't sleep after that," Alina said. "That affects me a lot. People are dying, so we really need big support from everyone."
"He didn't even ask me," Jean said, referring to Gary. "He said, 'I was thinking,' and I said 'yes.' I knew what he was going to say."
Gary and Jean have just taken in Alina's mother Valentina and her little sister Sophia from Ukraine. Their paperwork says they can live with the Fishers in Columbia for the next two years.
"The little girl came up, and she hugged me and just looked at me and said, 'thank you, and I knew we did the right thing,'" Gary said.
"We are not wealthy," Jean added. "We are financially healthy, and we are willing to share it."
Alina's father is staying with their farm in Ukraine for now, but one more person is coming to stay with Gary and Jean.
"Did her plane arrive? I'm assuming this is it," Jean said, standing with Gary, Valentina, and Sophia at the airport. They watched people coming down the escalator off their flights.
"Alina!" Valentina exclaimed as her daughter came into sight.
"I'm happy that I'm here," Alina said. "I'm happy that my family's safe. Beautiful story. I never expect things like this to happen. For me, it was like a fairy tale. I'm thankful for that monkey to jump in my lap for this story to happen. There are good people for sure, and I believe in that. I have proof."
Alina's family was brought here through the Uniting for Ukraine program. It allows Ukrainian citizens to come here for a two-year period. If you'd like to help support Alina's family, visit here.