Until Death Do Us Part

Life in the U.S. proves less than ideal for a Ukrainian bride.

"I was sort of overwhelmed contemplating that situation, being that far from home, having a baby, your husband dying," Backe said. "It's almost too improbable to be a script for a movie, with all the things that were going on."

At the first meeting, Backe explained to McGookey that if she didn't help Maslenko, the younger woman would be deported and McGookey would never see her grandson again. When they sat down a second time, McGookey provided a long list of what she wanted from her son's estate. Backe says he warned her that the government might see that as a deal in exchange for her signature and decline to award Maslenko a visa. Still McGookey refused.

On the last possible day Maslenko could have someone sign to keep her in the country legally, she took an attorney's suggestion that she have a friend legally adopt her. Ludwig agreed to be her de facto mother, and they submitted the necessary paperwork. A month later, immigration officials denied Maslenko's petition to stay in the United States; however, they did not issue a deportation order.

Nathan Santistevan

Maslenko decided to stay in Colorado and go to school, taking the $45,000 she had made from the sale of the house and enrolling at the Colorado School of Mines in August 2003. She had attended a mining school in Ukraine, so this was an opportunity to get her master's degree in mining and earth-systems engineering. She graduated on December 17, 2004.

After that, Maslenko was offered a job with a construction company that promised to hire a lawyer to work out her immigration status. Unfortunately, the issues couldn't be resolved. She then met with an international chemical company based in Texas that made the same promise. Maslenko thought things might get sorted out this time, because the firm had its own immigration lawyer. But that also fell though.

Finally, an Australian company offered her a position, and on March 18, Maslenko left the United States. She says she loves this country and would have preferred to stay, but without her mother-in-law's signature, she had no choice but to leave, taking her U.S.-born son with her.

"I think from the start, it was an improbable and sad situation," Backe says. "But within that, there were a number of people who came forward to help her through to a better place, and in the big picture, it's a heartwarming story for all the people who pitched in to help to get her to stay and then to get her to Australia."

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