Six miles from downtown Chattanooga the Yatsky family faced a final hurdle in a nine-year journey when their car broke down on the interstate.
It was nearly 1 a.m. Thursday and Svetlana, Yaroslav and Anna Yatsky were on their way here for an important ceremony at the Joel W. Solomon Federal Building downtown.
Svetlana's application for citizenship had been approved. At 10:30 a.m. she was scheduled to raise her right hand, swear an oath and become an American.
But then the car stalled.
Yaroslav dialed 911.
Chattanooga police Sgt. Brian Moseley arrived with other officers and tried to jump-start the car that was stranded near the Interstate 24 and Interstate 75 split.
But the 2006 Chrysler Town and Country minivan wouldn't turn over.
So the sergeant loaded the family in his patrol car and first drove them by the federal building so they'd know where to go. He then took them to their hotel, where they caught a few hours of sleep before the ceremony.
On the way downtown, Yaroslav shared an observation of a difference involving the United States, his home country of Ukraine and his wife's birthplace of Russia.
"In Russia the police would probably be the first ones to rob us," Yaroslav said he told Moseley.
Hours later, Svetlana praised the officers.
"These policemen proved we were in the right country," she said. "They were like angels, they treated us so well."
During the ceremony Thursday morning Yaroslav sat a few feet away snapping photographs with his smartphone as 4-year-old Anna sat on his lap, clutching a white Teddy bear that Moseley had pulled from the trunk of his patrol car and given to her that morning.
U.S. District Judge Curtis Collier told the crowd of more than 100 packed into his courtroom that these new citizens are continuing a tradition of democracy envisioned by the nation's founders.
The 49 applicants stood as foreigners with many, like the Yatskys, having lived here for years. A few minutes later they sat down as citizens.
Fifty-two more new citizens were scheduled for another ceremony in the afternoon. There are typically two such ceremonies held each year in both Chattanooga and Knoxville. There is one held each month in Nashville.
Both Svetlana and Yaroslav completed their interviews with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on Jan. 28 in Memphis, a state-long drive from their new home in Johnson City, where Yaroslav is in medical school.
Yaroslav awaits a message with his citizenship ceremony date.
Contact staff writer Todd South at email@example.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @tsouthCTFP.
Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...