Ellen Freeman immigrated from Odesa, Ukraine, to Pittsburgh almost 30 years ago. And although her family always planned to leave—she grew up learning various languages so that she could communicate wherever they settled—moving to the United States as a young single mother was one of the most difficult things that she has ever done.
The country would not recognize her master’s degree, and instead of doing nonprofit management like she did in Ukraine, Freeman got a job as a waitress and later sold DKNY athletic clothing at Saks Fifth Avenue.
She was scheduled to get a job in human resources at the department store, but that still would not be enough to cover expenses for herself and her children. So Freeman enrolled full time at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law while concurrently pursuing a master’s degree in public policy from the university.
Now an immigration attorney whose practice centers on legal work for pharmaceutical corporations hiring international employees, Freeman started doing pro bono work for Ukrainian immigrants in February, shortly after Russia invaded the country.
There’s a long wait for work permits, she says, and it seems like interest in coming to the United States has decreased from when she moved here, in part because the country can be difficult about recognizing degrees from other countries. She’s also involved in finding orthopedic surgeons and children’s hospitals to help Ukrainians coming to the United States who have been injured by warfare.
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