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Local History

Sense of Community: "I've Been Lucky"-- Born Just After Chernobyl, Veronica Palit Now U.S. Citizen

Photo: Jennifer Moore

Veronica Palit says the question she most often gets from friends and people she meets is, “’Where is Moldova?’ That is the biggest question—‘where is that country?’”

I’ll answer that. Moldova is a small country in eastern Europe, one-fourth the size of Missouri, says Veronica, situated between Romania and Ukraine.  It was under Russian—and later Soviet—domination for many decades. Moldova regained its independent status after the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall.

Veronica Palit was born in Moldova in 1986. “And that time, when I was born, was right after Chernobyl”—the catastrophic nuclear meltdown at the power plant in Chernobyl, Ukraine in late April 1986. Moldova, being right next door to Ukraine, got an especially dangerous dose of the radiation-infected clouds of smoke. And, of course, the Soviet authorities were silent about what was going on, says Palit. “Everyone was sick, but nobody knew why everyone was sick. And I was, like, a ‘Chernobyl child’ almost.” Pregnant with Veronica, her mother was one of the many exposed to the plumes of nuclear smoke.  And Veronica attributes her somewhat raspy voice to the radiation from Chernobyl. Luckily, she suffered no other ill effects. “No, I’ve been lucky,” she says.

Veronica’s parents both had decent jobs—her mother spent 20 years as a factory manager. But Veronica was born, and spent her first few years, before the end of the Soviet Union. Her family is actually Romanian, and they were not allowed by the Soviet authorities to speak Romanian, or to read Romanian literature or newspapers. “They invented a different language for us—a different alphabet.  My grandma was teaching my mom, my parents, and my sister, the Romanian alphabet.”

Post-1989, things were opening up in Moldova, but there were still huge struggles both economically and politically. “Oh yeah, that was, like, (a) terrible time,” she says. “Every people had savings… overnight, thousands turned to pennies.  Inflation.  They changed overnight to new national money.  We have different money, different currency.  Completely different bank notes. The money (that) you had, nobody accepted anymore.”

Veronica Palit’s family still lives in Moldova. Asked how the situation there is today, she says simply, “Not big improvement.  Corruption—one thing that we have left (over) from Russia is a bad habit of corruption. My mom, after 35 years of working, she got right now her retirement—it’s $70 a month.  That’s the sad part, because they show on TV everything is ‘perfect.’ But (in) reality, these people need ten times more to be able to survive.”

Even so, when Veronica had the chance to leave Moldova for the United States about a decade ago, she didn’t feel able to go at first.  Her boyfriend—now her husband—had already come to the United States, to the Branson area, on a student-exchange program. In 2009 he got the chance to enter the green-card lottery.  “He said one day to me, ‘You know, I have (a) chance to move to USA.  You wanna follow me?’ I said, ‘Mmm… I really don’t want to marry yet’—because that was (the) only option to come together. And at that time I was doing my Master’s degree.”

She was working on a Master’s in management, counseling and social work. Her boyfriend had earned a Master’s degree in engineering. “I told him, I want to finish my studies.”

And she did. But he proposed marriage, and she accepted.  They were separated for a year and two months when she finally got to come to Branson eight years ago on a fiancée visa.  And then they had 90 days to get married. While studying at College of the Ozarks, Veronica’s fiancé had gotten a dishwashing job at Landry’s Seafood House in Branson, and Veronica was hired there as well, to work in the kitchen. In fact, they got married in Landry’s Seafood House, inviting all their co-workers to the wedding—the only people they knew over here. “That was (a) good part of our story,” says Veronica.  “And we had, after that, (a) long journey ‘til I got to get the green card—almost four years.”

Despite that, Veronica and her husband managed to put their Master’s degrees to good use: Veronica became a social working dealing with differently abled clients; her husband installs elevator systems. They were able, early on, to buy a house—which would be an impossibility back home in Moldova. “That (was) our dream, to have our (own) home. And we got the dream come true—and really easy. And such a low interest rate!”

Veronica Palit became a naturalized citizen just two months ago.  Her husband became a citizen several years ago. She calls the ceremony, at Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield, an “amazing ceremony.  I didn’t expect (it) to be such a wonderful ceremony. The people who (are) living here in this country (are) blessed. And I’m blessed to be here too.  Many times when we go to church, I always say ‘Thank you, God, because I have this opportunity to change my life, to change my kid’s life, and also to be able to provide some income to my parents, to our parents back home.”

Many thanks to Veronica Palit for sharing her story with us.