BRANSON, Mo. — If you’ve been to Branson, Missouri you may know the name Yakov Smirnoff. He’s been in movies, television, on Broadway and is also from Ukraine. Some of his family has fled from the country and others are still there.
He’s known for his catchphrase “What a country!” However, with war breaking out in Ukraine it’s taking on a new feeling. He said they’ve helped some family get over the border but others remain. Yakov and his wife, Olivia, are praying for peace and are trying to help those in need.
“I’m like going this is reality? This is where we are?” Yakov said.
Smirnoff immigrated to the US in the 1970s from Russia, now Ukraine, and became an American citizen in the 1980s.
He was on Night Court, shared the screen with Robin Williams, Tom Hanks, Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep. He’s also performed for four presidents. He’s best known for his jokes about his experiences in Soviet Russia with a lighthearted twist on the difficult reality.
Today from America, he and his wife are watching war breakout in his home country and is desperately trying to help family and friends escape.
“They went to Lviv which is west Ukraine and then were able to take the train to Krakow. That took four days. They’ve been figuring out how to do it with two kids,” Yakov said.
Olivia spends all day on the phone helping friends try to survive and keep their spirits high while they live in basements. She prays with them, helps them financially in any way she can, and tries to help direct people heading toward the border.
“My friend said today I washed my hair, and my friends bring me bread and she cried, and she’s been appreciative for this. We forgot to be appreciative for bread, for water – what we have,” Olivia said.
“She is doing it because her heart is so big,” Yakov said.
They were able to help her mother, sister, and children get over the border, but they have some family who decided to stay.
“There is a realization that you may not talk to them ever again, and I know so many people who are going to bed that are outside and not sure if they’re going to be able to connect with them again,” Yakov said.
Forgotten in the fray, Yakov said we have to remember the Ukrainian children in need.
“They’re helpless. Adults will figure it out somehow, but children don’t have that capacity,” Yakov said.
Their hope is for peace and to one day old their family in their arms again.
“God, if you save my family, I will do whatever you want,” Olivia said. “It’s my dream now.”
“It would be an amazing feeling of hugging them and them relaxing into our arms and knowing they are safe and going to be okay,” Yakov said.
Smirnoff hopes people can make donations to Convoy of Hope to help refugees as they come across the border. The organization is working in six countries on the border of Ukraine to give food, water, shelter, hygiene kits and medical supplies to refugees. If you would like more information on how you can help you can visit their website here.