In 2017, there were many memorable folks who shared their stories with The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette, and we wanted to catch up with some of them before the year’s end. Here is the first story in our “Where are they now?” series.
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A few time zones away. A few thousand miles apart. Two different countries.
A family divided.
They make it work. They have a baby. And they have a plan — couple of them, even.
Canada, maybe, if he can get his Ukrainian travel documents in order. Andrey Golubets, 27, deported overseas in November to his birth country after living in Bluffton for a couple of decades, hopes he can immigrate to Canada and find construction work there.
His wife, Kristin Cooper, hopes to join him. They’ll be close to Cooper’s relatives in Michigan, and the couple can start working on getting the marijuana charges expunged from Golubets’ record.
For now, though, they do their best to simulate family life through computer and cell phone screens. Theirs is a relationship complicated by crimes of the past.
The marijuana charges, both simple-possession, are what could ultimately keep Andrey from being able to earn a green card and work toward his U.S. citizenship, even though the federal government deemed his and Cooper’s marriage legitimate. The couple’s I-130 — the U.S. Customs form that validates the marriage of an American citizen to a non-citizen — was approved in September.
But Golubets was deported several weeks later, the result of his admittedly regrettable behavior — he has eight criminal convictions, including two for driving-under-the-influence, in addition to the drug charges, according to Beaufort County records — and a decision that was made for him, when he was a child.
Golubets’ parents, Iryna and Oleg, brought him to America when he was 7. And while they overstayed their visas and lived here illegally for years, they’ve since achieved legal status. Their son did not — could not. They started him on the process when he was 17, but the convictions he began to amass around the same time made the effort futile.
So he stayed in America illegally — he’d grown up here and spent more time here than he had in his birth country. Ukraine might have been his home country, but Bluffton was his home.
Cooper married him on April 10, 2015. She was aware of his status as he’d spent three months in Lumpkin, Ga., at Stewart Detention Center — a private prison with an attached federal immigration court — when they were dating. It was his second time at Stewart. His third trip to Lumpkin began this past spring, when he was picked up by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents after he skipped a required security check-in in Charleston.
He was in prison for about six months before he was finally flown out of the country on Nov. 7.
He missed his son’s first birthday in July.
Now he’s in Kiev, Ukraine, a city he hadn’t seen since he left two decades ago, living with a grandmother he hadn’t seen in a couple of years.
Cooper said she and Max will travel there to visit him sometime in the spring. And if the Canada plan doesn’t work out, she and Max will move to Ukraine — that’s Plan B.
“All of us are less stressed because we don’t feel like he’s locked up anymore,” Cooper recently said. “I think we can all breathe a little easier.”
She and Golubets often “eat together,” meaning they’ll share meals as they talk through video calls on Skype.
She has a mount for her phone in her car so he can take rides with his family and see Max.
A couple of weeks ago on an unseasonably warm night, Cooper built a bonfire behind their house, and she and Max sat outside. Golubets joined them.
“I think Max can finally put Andrey’s face with ‘Dad,’ ” she said.
Golubets said “it was pretty shocking” when he got off the plane in Ukraine. Still, better than prison. His family sends him money from time to time. He’s been studying stocks and investment opportunities, something he’s interested in pursuing further.
The time apart has been hard, he said.
Cooper said the same thing. There have been moments when she’s been angry with him. There have been times when she’s walked the line between encouraging him and reminding him that he’s not the only one struggling.
But they’re still together.
“I could never abandon someone like that,” Cooper said, when asked if she’d ever thought about ending their marriage and moving on with her own life.
“Even now. I’m so far into this — I don’t know,” she continued.
“We just have a lot of chemistry.”