The little girl who lived down the lane



Keywords: the little girl who lived down the lane
Description: For 9-year-old Sofiya Doroshenko, serenity returned Wednesday in the form of showing off stuffed animals and drawing a flower while she and her mom fielded interviews, a day after the girl had freefallen three stories away from fire and into the arms of police officers.

Yuliya Doroshenko kisses her daughter Sofiya, 9, at Super 8 motel in Mahwah on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016.

MAHWAH — For 9-year-old Sofiya Doroshenko, serenity returned Wednesday in the form of showing off stuffed animals and drawing a flower while she and her mom fielded interviews, a day after the girl had freefallen three stories away from fire and into the arms of police officers.

Sofiya had been brought to the United States from the Ukraine just at the start of the school year, joining her parents after they had secured her green card.

And for the family as a whole, coming to America has included some surprising and unwelcome moments:

On Tuesday night, the young pianist found herself on her balcony, surrounded by smoke and fire and staring down from her family’s third-floor condo apartment in the Society Hill complex. The three police officers on the ground coaxed her to jump ito their linked arms — which she did promptly, falling backwards with her arms straight out in front of her.

Besides a few knee scrapes, Doroshenko was physically unharmed and woke up in the morning to go to school, minus her backpack. In an interview Wednesday in her family’s room at the Super 8 on Route 17, her mother Yuliya and stepfather Zdenko praised her quick thinking and said that she fell into the “arms of angels.”

“The first moment was very hard, because I couldn’t believe before that you could lose your mind if you think you can lose your child,” Zdenko said. “I consider myself a strong man, but believe it or not, I cry all the time. Still I cannot think about it, because it’s not good.”

It is not the family’s first calamity here: Yuliya and Zdenko previously lived in Rockaway Beach, Queens and saw their car float away during superstorm Sandy — “I don’t know how we survived, but we are here,” Zdenko said, recalling how they lived without water or electricity for weeks.

In September, they moved to Mahwah, pleased by its good schools and close-knit community. Settling in, they bought a tablet and piano for Sofiya, who competed in piano competitions in Ukraine, where she had lived with her grandparents. And just this week, the family had put money down on a five-year-old car.

“Now, not water, but fire,” said Zdenko, who arrived in New York just before the 9/11 terror attacks.

Yuliya, who came to the country four years ago as a doctor and is now a medical professional here like her husband, rubbed her daughter’s back as the two sat on the hotel bed. She said they are grateful for the community’s generosity, having received messages of support and donations, including the jacket she sported and the denim jeans her daughter wore.

The fire damaged 12 apartments in the three-story, 24-unit building, part of the Society Hill complex on Juniper Lane in Mahwah. Township police Sgt. Michael Blondin said that as of Wednesday night, indications were that the fire’s cause was accidental, though it remained under investigation.

Township Police Chief James Batelli said the fire began in a third-floor apartment occupied by an elderly woman across from the Doroshenkos.

The building has no installed sprinkler system, said Batelli, and some firewalls do not go through the attic all the way to the roof.

Police officers rushed into the burning building and knocked on doors to evacuate residents, until the smoke and flames forced them outside as well.

Mahwah Fire Chief Tom Loreto said when he arrived, heavy fire on a third-floor balcony quickly spread, trapped by “a few void spaces.” After firefighters appeared to have the blaze under control at 5 p.m. it flared up again until firefighters knocked it down by 7 p.m.

Her parents had prepared her for a moment like this with a list of emergency contacts and imploring her to trust police — “We don’t have relatives down the street, and anything can happen,” Yuliya said. “I told her, ‘If it’s fire, never go out if you see fire because of the danger. And never open the door.’ ”

Sofiya reacted by going to the balcony. Police officers told her mother that Sofiya, wearing a bright pink long-sleeve shirt, went in and out of view as the smoke swirled around her. Lt. Jeffrey Dino, soon joined by Sgt. Brendan Mullin and Officer Thomas Solimano, implored the girl to jump, saying her mother was on her way.

Yuliya said she was worried at first when she heard Sofiya had to jump — “It can be fifty-fifty,” she said, remarking on the potential outcome.

The Doroshenkos and other condo residents who lost everything in the fire spent Wednesday at nearby hotels and in talks with insurance companies.

Kathy Errico and her adult daughter, Jennifer, said at a meeting Wednesday they learned they cannot return to their smoke-damaged condo unit until building inspectors declare it structurally sound, which could take at least a week.






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