Leska credits her faith as the source of her strength and confidence to continue moving forward.
Leska’s move from Ukraine to the U.S. was propelled by a tragedy — a car crash that instantly changed the course of her life. Leska’s parents and younger brother passed away and Leska sustained substantial injuries. Her older brother, who was living in California at the time, became her new legal guardian. Leska was adopted by her brother and his wife, who filed for Leska’s permanent resident status.
In California, 14-year-old Leska began pouring her energy into achieving top grades in school and volunteering in the community, all the while healing from her significant injuries from the car accident. After navigating the medical system herself, she realized health care was inaccessible and unaffordable for many in the U.S.
Leska believed in the power of the body to heal itself. Rather than simply embracing a victim mentality, she decided to pursue health and fitness with the confidence that it was still possible for her body to be well again.
“I took matters into my own hands and decided to take charge of my health,” Leska said. “I took the path of figuring out how to care for my body properly during this time.”
After graduating high school with honors, Leska returned to Ukraine to be reunited with her sister and continue her healing journey. She traveled back to the U.S. during the summers and soon realized that she ultimately wanted to return to the U.S. and build a life here.
“I missed the community that I’d built in the U.S,” Leska said. “I felt like I identified with people and different mentalities, especially in the Bay Area.”
Motivated to stay in the U.S., Leska began seeking out citizenship resources.
To make her dream of permanently living in the U.S. come true, Leska needed access to affordable immigration legal services. She first connected with IIBA by attending a citizenship workshop. IIBA informed her that she already qualified to be a citizen because of her unique situation and needed to apply for a certificate of citizenship.
“I had trust for the first time in a long time,” said Leska, who formed an instant connection with IIBA’s Senior DOJ Accredited Representative Becky Bogyo. “There’s something about her demeanor, something about the way we connected. It felt personal, human, instead of just the system.”
Leska says that IIBA’s help with her citizenship application was “a gift for life.” Throughout the complex process, IIBA was there for Leska at every step of the way, answering her questions, ensuring that her documents were in order, and frequently checking in.
“I feel like IIBA makes a huge difference in the world,” Leska said. “Even though not everyone may see it, it’s impactful.”
Leska became a U.S. citizen on June 2, 2022, nearly three years after she started the process and just six days before her birthday. She recalls feeling overcome with emotion as she took the citizenship oath.
“I realized anything is possible,” Leska said. “If all this has led me this far, and I have gone through all these obstacles, there’s nothing that’s going to stand in my way of achieving my dream and my goal in life — contributing to the world I live in.”
As a U.S. citizen, she now has the freedom and opportunity to pursue her dreams.
While waiting to be granted citizenship, Leska completed her associate’s degree from the College of San Mateo, again graduating with honors. She now works three jobs while completing her bachelor’s degree at San Jose State University.
Leska aspires to become a transformation coach with an emphasis on holistic healing and wellness. She recently enrolled in a certification program from the National Academy of Sports Medicine and plans to take some time off from her jobs to focus on the program.
“I hear many people share the struggles they’re dealing with, in the medical field or in the fitness industry,” Leska said. “I want to offer them an opportunity to do something differently and in a way that’s beneficial for their body and for their mind.”
Her dream is to one day open her own practice focusing on holistic approaches to healing and wellness.
“I want to inspire people and show them that my life is an example of what’s possible,” said Leska. “I want to encourage them to do the same — that they can achieve anything they want in life.”
In her free time, Leska enjoys spending time in nature, as well as taking photos. Now that she is a citizen, she believes California is truly where she belongs.