Ukrainian American recalls son's 'scary' phone call during Russia invasion: 'Mom, they started bombing'

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A Ukrainian American mother in Iowa is hoping her son can reunite with his wife and 1-year-old son as he remains behind the Ukraine border amid the Russia-Ukraine war.

Irena Laura Yoder of Dubuque, Iowa, told Fox News Digital she urged her son TJ — whose surname she wanted omitted for privacy reasons — to flee the city of Kyiv as the world braced for Russian troops to act under Vladimir Putin’s command.

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“I told them, ‘You need to leave the country,'” Yoder said. 

“I trust the news in the U.S. and I saw what Biden was saying. I said, ‘There’s going to be a war,'” she relayed to Fox News Digital. 

TJ, Viktoria and their son, Mark, age 1, were separated from each other on Feb. 25, 2022 after Russia invaded their country of Ukraine.

TJ, Viktoria and their son, Mark, age 1, were separated from each other on Feb. 25, 2022 after Russia invaded their country of Ukraine.
(Irena Laura Yoder)

Yoder, a Ukraine native, said the invasion has been a “long time coming.” 

“Putin hates Ukraine,” Yoder said bluntly. “He hates the people and the Ukrainian language. He wanted to completely destroy and scratch off from the earth the Ukrainian word … no country, no such thing.”

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Yoder left Ukraine with TJ in 1998 for a new life in the U.S. after escaping from an abusive relationship, she said.

“My [youngest] son Dimitri called me and said, ‘Hi, Mom.’ His voice was shaking. I said, ‘Is it morning?’ He said, ‘No.’ I knew it was a war.”

— Irena Laura Yoder to Fox News Digital

“Also, because of some political views,” Yoder added. 

“It still was the Soviet Union before and still lots of political pressure and communism was around. It was very corrupt. I didn’t like that.”

Irena Laura Yoder of Dubuque, Iowa, told Fox News Digital she urged her son TJ to flee Kyiv, Ukraine. Yoder said her daughter-in-law Viktoria was adamant about not separating from TJ — but their son Mark (shown in this photo) has neurological issues that require medical attention.

Irena Laura Yoder of Dubuque, Iowa, told Fox News Digital she urged her son TJ to flee Kyiv, Ukraine. Yoder said her daughter-in-law Viktoria was adamant about not separating from TJ — but their son Mark (shown in this photo) has neurological issues that require medical attention.
(Irena Laura Yoder)

Yoder, a mother of two, has a 20-year-old son currently attending college in Iowa. 

Her son TJ, 35, was living in Ukraine with his wife Viktoria and their 1-year-old son, Mark, when Russia invaded in late February. 

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“On the 24th, I went to bed that night. I work at the hospital,” Yoder said. 

“My [youngest] son Dimitri called me and said, ‘Hi, Mom.’ His voice was shaking. I said, ‘Is it morning?’ He said, ‘No.’ Then, I knew it was a war.”

A fire-damaged building is shown here, following a blast at around 4 a.m. during Russian artillery strikes in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Friday, Feb. 25, 2022. Ukraine's president said Moscow-led forces were continuing attacks on military and civilian targets on the second day of the invasion after the U.S. and its allies imposed new sanctions on Moscow.

A fire-damaged building is shown here, following a blast at around 4 a.m. during Russian artillery strikes in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Friday, Feb. 25, 2022. Ukraine’s president said Moscow-led forces were continuing attacks on military and civilian targets on the second day of the invasion after the U.S. and its allies imposed new sanctions on Moscow.
(Photographer: Erin Trieb/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Yoder said TJ called her next.

“He’s like, ‘Mom, they started bombing. They started war,'” Yoder said, adding that TJ said he heard sirens. 

“It was awful,” she added. “So scary.”

TJ, Viktoria and their young son Mark, age 1, were separated on Feb. 25, 2022 after Russia invaded Ukraine; the family's packed car is shown above as mom and son left Kyiv for the Poland border. TJ was unable to flee with them; Ukrainian officials ordered all men ages 18 to 60 to stay in Ukraine.

TJ, Viktoria and their young son Mark, age 1, were separated on Feb. 25, 2022 after Russia invaded Ukraine; the family’s packed car is shown above as mom and son left Kyiv for the Poland border. TJ was unable to flee with them; Ukrainian officials ordered all men ages 18 to 60 to stay in Ukraine.
(Irena Laura Yoder)

TJ and his family packed their car and left Kyiv for the Poland border, though TJ was unable to cross, since Ukrainian officials banned men ages 18 to 60 from leaving the nation. 

A million refugees have fled Ukraine since the invasion, according to the United Nations.

“I pray every day to see my family again even though I have a feeling, time to time, I might not.”

— TJ, son of Irena Laura Yoder

Yoder said her daughter-in-law was adamant about not separating from TJ. Yet their young son Mark has cysts on his brain and severe neurological issues — which require medical attention.

TJ, who is currently sheltering in Ukraine, kisses his 1-year-old son, Mark. TJ has been separated from his wife and small son ever since Russia invaded his country.

TJ, who is currently sheltering in Ukraine, kisses his 1-year-old son, Mark. TJ has been separated from his wife and small son ever since Russia invaded his country.
(Irena Laura Yoder)

TJ, who’s currently sheltering roughly 80 miles outside the border, told Fox News Digital he’s willing to fight, though there aren’t enough weapons and gear as of now.

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“It’s a deficit,” TJ said via a messaging app. 

Irena Laura Yoder's little grandson Mark, age 1, shown above, has neurological issues, which require medical attention. Baby Mark is seen in this undated photo with his father, TJ, Yoder's son.

Irena Laura Yoder’s little grandson Mark, age 1, shown above, has neurological issues, which require medical attention. Baby Mark is seen in this undated photo with his father, TJ, Yoder’s son.
(Irena Laura Yoder)

On Thursday, New York politician Bruce Blakeman announced a gun drive for legal gun owners to donate weapons to be shipped to Ukraine, where citizens are defending themselves against the Russian invaders. 

Donations of unloaded rifles, shotguns, or AR-15s or other long gun weapons from legal gun owners are to be sent to the Ukrainian people.

Ukrainian soldiers take positions outside a military facility as two cars burn, in a street in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022. Russian troops stormed toward Ukraine's capital on Saturday, and street fighting broke out as city officials urged residents to take shelter. 

Ukrainian soldiers take positions outside a military facility as two cars burn, in a street in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022. Russian troops stormed toward Ukraine’s capital on Saturday, and street fighting broke out as city officials urged residents to take shelter. 
(AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

As for food and water, TJ said his situation is “OK.”

“Lots of shelves are starting to be empty, depending [on] what region a person is in,” he said.

“I know I’m a mom, but I can’t baby him the rest of my life.”

— Irena Laura Yoder about her son

TJ said he’s still in communication with his wife and child, who are currently in Warsaw.

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“I pray every day to see my family again, even though I have a feeling, time to time, I might not,” he said. 

“I’m happy they made it out and are safe in Poland at the moment because it’s getting worse and worse … Ukraine definitely needs more help.”

TJ, Viktoria and their young son Mark were separated on Feb. 25, 2022 after Russia invaded Ukraine. Viktoria and Mark are now in Poland.

TJ, Viktoria and their young son Mark were separated on Feb. 25, 2022 after Russia invaded Ukraine. Viktoria and Mark are now in Poland.
(Irena Laura Yoder)

“She [my wife] wants us to reunite and live as we lived before without our terror,” TJ added.

Yoder said the last time she saw her son was in September, during a trip to Ukraine. Now, she’s following his journey through war.

Irena Laura Yoder of Iowa is shown in Ukraine (at right) with her son TJ, grandson Mark (in her arms) and boyfriend Steven in September 2021.

Irena Laura Yoder of Iowa is shown in Ukraine (at right) with her son TJ, grandson Mark (in her arms) and boyfriend Steven in September 2021.
(Irena Laura Yoder)

“When I told him I worry about him, he said, ‘Mom, if you cry I cry, you laugh I laugh, you die I die,’” Yoder said, adding that her son is ready to “go to war” and protect his family.

“I know I’m a mom, but I can’t baby him the rest of my life,” Yoder added.

Irena Laura Yoder kisses her son TJ, 35, in Ukraine, September 2021.

Irena Laura Yoder kisses her son TJ, 35, in Ukraine, September 2021.
(Irena Laura Yoder)

Yoder launched a GoFundMe titled “Help Homeless Ukrainian Mark Get Medical Help.” 

She created it for her grandson’s treatment, food and clothing — as well as for her family’s transportation to the U.S.

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Fox News’ Danielle Wallace contributed to this report.

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