Our Garden Tour Star Andrey Yun: Life Before, During, and After VRG

Andrey Yun worked for the Virginia Robinson Gardens from 2017-2020. He is an immensely talented florist, designer, and horticulturalist that we were so lucky to have at the Gardens. An excellent pruner and plantsman, Andrey thoughtfully detailed the garden by pruning, dividing, and transplanting specimen plants. He also created VRG’s “succulent nurse” in 2020 to honor our medical heroes. The piece Audrey designed was a living sculpture constructed of metal netting planted with succulents in the form of a nurse. It was displayed in the Healing Gardens of Cedars-Sinai for all staff to enjoy on their breaks, as well as delighting the patients and visitors. Floral Tribute to Cedars from the Virginia Robinson Gardens. Read about his enthralling story:

1. Where were you born? Where did you travel to, and where did you study and work?

I was born in Uzbekistan in Central Asia, which was one of the 15 republics of the former USSR. I’m the third generation of Koreans who were deported in 1937 during Stalin’s regime from the area bordered by Korea (at that time one country), Russia, and China to Central Asia. The Koreans were given 24 hours to gather their belongings and were loaded onto cattle cars and sent away in the fall through Siberia. Many died on the way and were taken to deserted areas, mainly to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, and dumped with no place to live and food to eat. My grandparents survived. I missed the hardships of the early years.

I have traveled to Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, South Korea, Jordan, and the United States. I received my first degree in Mechanical Engineering from South-Russian State Technical University in 1999, and I worked as an engineer in Zarafshan, Uzbekistan at the Navoi Mining and Metallurgy Combinat.

I became a Christian in the year of my graduation and attended the Seventh Day Adventist Church. In a few years, I was invited to become a Global Mission Pioneer in our church. I started a remote education program in Kazakhstan, using the theology program from Zaoksky Theological Seminary, Russia. I worked as a missionary and a pastor at a newly founded small SDA church in Zarafshan.

Later, I traveled to South Korea and afterwards enrolled in a Landscape Design & Horticulture program, taking classes at Zaoksky Adventist University in Russia and at Andrews University in Michigan. Within the school program, I had a chance to participate in archeological digs in Madaba, Jordan and did a research project on water conservation at the Nabulsi Center in Jordan. After graduation, I worked at the Creative Landscaping & Design company in Michigan.

2. How did you come to work for the Virginia Robinson Gardens? What projects were you in charge of? What was your favorite part of working at Robinson Gardens?

One day in Los Angeles, I looked on Yelp in search of any botanical garden volunteer program. I read about the Virginia Robinson Gardens, a hidden gem in Beverly Hills. I called and met Timothy Lindsay, the Superintendent at VRG, and he offered me a three-month paid internship. The scholarship was provided by the Southern California Horticultural Society.

At the end of my internship in April 2017, I was offered to work with the Friends of Robinson Gardens. Since that time, I have been lucky to participate in different programs and projects at VRG, such as the Children’s Program, Garden Tours, Patron Galas, and many more. My favorite part of Robinson Gardens was the joy of working with a vast diversity of plants in the gardens and a wonderful experience of collaboration with so many talented and beautiful people, all united in the love of nature, beauty, continuous education, and the legacy of Harry and Virginia Robinson.

3. What have you been doing since the pandemic?

The Covid pandemic hit in February 2020; March 15th was the day when all the businesses were abruptly shut down for an uncertain time. On the exact day of March 15, I received a call from Tim Lindsay offering for me to come to the gardens and help maintain it during the quarantine. So, when many people struggled being locked down at their homes in fear of the deadly virus, I had the privilege of working in the gardens full time in the spring, surrounded by flowering beauties. It was a therapeutic experience, finding serenity and peace during the madness of COVID-19.

4. We have heard that you are reunited with your wife and son. Can you please tell us how they escaped Russia, and where you will be meeting them?

I was separated from my family in 2011 when I obtained my student visa, but my wife and our son were denied visas. After 10 long difficult years with multiple denials from the US Embassy in Moscow and in Uzbekistan, they were able to enter the United States as Christian refugees. It was a very dramatic experience for them. Uzbekistan is a predominantly Muslim country; around 95-98% of the population is considered Muslim. The communist Soviet Union regime had a long-lasting influence on its populace on so many levels, especially regarding faith and religion in post-USSR countries. It wasn’t easy sometimes to practice your beliefs living there.

My wife has three sisters and one brother. As American citizens, the oldest sister and her family were able to apply for a reunion with the members of the family who are Christian with the help of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.

In August 2019, my family in Uzbekistan, my mother-in-law and her two other daughters with their families (the youngest in Russia and the other in South Korea) were invited by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services for their first interview held in Yerevan, Armenia. After the interview, they went back to their countries, patiently waiting to hear if they were approved or denied entrance into the United States.

At Christmas time, an unexpected tragedy changed everybody’s plans. The youngest sister and her husband died an untimely death in a car accident in Russia, leaving two little boys of five and ten years old as orphans. The third sister and her family in South Korea received the approval just before the tragedy. They decided to come to the United States and safely arrived at the end of January 2020, right before the border was locked, and the whole world was shut down. My wife and our son were granted refugee status and an approval to enter the country in January 2020, but they asked to postpone their departure in order to help my mother-in-law with the two orphans in Russia. They flew to Russia in mid-January, dealing with the loss of the young couple and anxiously guessing if and how their deferral request to the USCIS would affect the final decision on their case.

The COVID-19 lockdown beginning in March 2020 in Russia made things almost unbearable for our family since they lived in another country without any rights for the entire year in uncertainty. In the beginning of 2021, they received an approval and invitation for an interview in Belarus in February 2021. I need to mention that all the small countries where they potentially could be invited for a second interview, such as Armenia, Georgia, Ukraine, and Belarus, had a very unstable political situation. It was almost a war condition with social instabilities and armed confrontation, especially in Belarus. Nevertheless, they were determined to go there.

After the interview in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, they were planning to return to Russia and to wait there since they had a place to stay safely, but they had to face another challenge. At the airport entering the border gate, my wife was warned by the Belarus officers that our son would be denied to enter Russia because by Russian law, only immediate relatives could cross the border during the pandemic. They had to be separated. Our son of 12 years old stayed by himself in a completely new country but luckily had the help of our church brothers and sisters. It was a new stress for all of us on top of the others. In two weeks after arranging our affairs in Russia, my wife, her mother and the two little boys safely joined our son in Belarus.

According to a Belarus law, they could stay legally no more than three months in the country. They couldn’t go back to Russia, and they couldn’t go to Uzbekistan because everything was still under lockdown there. They couldn’t stay any longer in Belarus. There was only one way to escape if they were to come to the United States. A week before their registration expired, they received a final decision with their plane tickets. They had to fly through Turkey because the whole of Europe closed their air space for any plane departing Belarus. This situation was due to the strange decision of the Belarus President to forcefully land a Latvian Ryanair plane in Minsk. No COVID-19, no war activities, and no other circumstances were able to hold back my family anymore. They escaped, almost as if they were in God’s hands, all the adversities of the last two years and safely landed in Spokane, the capital of Washington, on June 2nd, 2021.

The organization that led and helped them all the way from the beginning to the end provided unprecedented service. They provided their supervisors on every step of the way. In every country, city, and airport (Minsk-Istanbul-Washington-Chicago- Spokane), my family was greeted, guarded, and put on and off a plane. Their luggage was carried, the hotels reserved, and breakfast was served until they were safely delivered into the oldest sister’s hands and into the caring hands of agents from the World Relief Organization in Spokane. The Russian chapter was over.

I decided to move up to Spokane to reunite with my family and to help them to get to know their new country, the people, and the culture and to support them so they would have a smooth transition to their new life in every possible way.

5. You are so talented. What are your plans for the future?

For the near future, my plans are mostly related to my son, to catch up, and make up for the precious missing days and years. From the time they landed in the United States this summer, I am experiencing a very strong parental instinct. As for my professional plans, I’m exploring a new field of working with disabled kids and children on the autistic spectrum, which was on my list of interests from sometime back in Los Angeles. I am taking CBT classes (cognitive behavioral therapy) while simultaneously helping my wife to reach her goal to open her own business providing a catering service. In October, we did our first family cooking event for the community at the Feast World Kitchen in downtown Spokane.

Thank you to all the Friends of Robinsons Gardens for the unforgettable time! God bless all of you!

5 Responses

  1. Diana Doyle
    | Reply

    What a story of struggle and in the end, triumph! He is such a bright and talented man!!

  2. Krista
    | Reply

    Humbled by Andrey Yun’s journey! Wishing him and his family a 2022 full of peace and beauty and joy.

  3. Patti Reinstein
    | Reply

    May God’s blessings be bestowed on you and your family as you are all reunited. My family misses the love your hands brought to our gardens.

  4. Rachel Ault
    | Reply

    This was a perfect story for the New Year.
    Amazing journey and resilience. Hope abounds ..

  5. Stan Beikmann
    | Reply

    Andrey was a brilliant student and highly talented and creative young man in my landscape courses at Andrews University. It makes me so happy to see that talent being shared so well. Bravo Andrey! It also does my heart good to see him be reunited with his family through extraordinary circumstances and to get to know his son! God Bless you all!!

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