Born in Soviet Ukraine, of Armenian descent, Karina came to the U.S. as an asylum seeker with her family in 1996 when she was eight years old. Five years later, the final appeal of her family’s asylum claim was denied, and she received a “final order of removal” from the U.S., and was told to “self deport”.
Karina was too young to qualify for a passport when she left Soviet Ukraine with her parents. Now, years later, she has no country to return home to. Unable to meet the requirements of the nationality law of the newly established Republic of Ukraine, Karina does not qualify for a Ukrainian nationality / citizenship, making “self deportation” or travel out of the United States impossible. Karina is - literally — a Citizen of Nowhere, through no choice or fault of her own. In 2013, Karina married Kevin, a U.S. Citizen, yet Karina’s stateless status prevents her from becoming a U.S. Citizen.
After sharing her story in public, Karina connected with other stateless people in the U.S for the first time in 2017. It soon became clear that a formal structure was needed to connect their ideas and stories with other stateless people, stakeholders, advocates, legal community and academia. As our first Executive Director, Karina continues to lead United Stateless on the principle that those directly impacted can lead and are experts because of their lived experiences. For her work and dedication, Karina has been honored with the 2020 Women's Refugee Commission Voices of Courage Award and to have been recognized as the 2021 Women Leading the 175th Award by PA State Representative Mary Isaacson.
“I feel sometimes that I inherited a problem, like a Greek tragedy. And learning how to live with it, and learning how to accept it, and being angry about it, and being empowered by it, you know, being humbled by it, but also being hurt by it. It's just constant.”