Together again


Vladimir and Kelly in Cambridge with children Gabriela, (left) and Nina.

Moving to Cambridge from Denmark earlier this year was a dream come true for New Zealand-born Kelly Pacheco, but the dream rapidly turned into a nightmare when her husband and oldest daughter were prevented from joining her.

Vladimir Pacheco and 13-year-old Nina were kicked off their flight in Copenhagen on March 23 as New Zealand shut its borders to foreigners because of the Covid-19 pandemic. They had already had a long day with a three-hour train journey from their home in Aarhus on Denmark’s Jutland Peninsular where Vladimir is an associate professor at the city’s university.

So, when they rung Kelly and 10-year-old Gabriela in Cambridge to tell them they were not only stranded in Copenhagen but unlikely to be allowed in New Zealand for months, Nina could only sob in despair while Kelly and Gabriela were devastated.

But the story got worse and only finished on Queen’s Birthday Sunday when the family were finally reunited in Auckland.

“Everything was going too perfectly, we should have known,” says Kelly of the months leading up to the reunion.

The couple met and married in Australia. Vladimir’s family were refugees from El Salvador who settled in Brisbane; Kelly’s family had emigrated to Australia when she was a teenager. He has Australian citizenship.

After Vladimir learned English, it set him on an academic path which continues today. The couple met through a mutual friend while he was at university doing his PhD and she was working as a mental health clinician.

They married, had two children, worked in Australia and Fiji and then in 2014 moved to Denmark.

Kelly is a specialist eating disorders clinician and had her own private psychotherapy practice in Aarhus. Vladimir does research in political studies and social policy and has authored many papers on micro finance, economics and sustainable development.

Last year they decided it was time to move back to the southern hemisphere. Kelly quickly secured a job with Waikato DHB as an eating disorders specialist while Aarhus University said they were happy for Vladimir to move to

New Zealand provided he would return to Denmark twice a year to lecture and continue his research.

Kelly started her job in January and brought Gabriela over with her so she could start at Cambridge Primary School.

Her mother Jennifer McDowell came over from Australia, planning to leave once Vladimir and Nina arrived on March 28.

As Covid-19 worsened, Vladimir rebooked the flight for March 23 but in retrospect, it would have been better to have been five days earlier. They would have got into the country before the border shut down.

In Copenhagen, after a night’s rest with friends, Vladimir decided that rather than go back to the house in Aarhus which he had prepared to rent out, he and Nina would travel as far and as close to New Zealand as they could. He booked an expensive flight to Brisbane via Doha in Qatar.

He’s not sure on which of the flights he picked up coronavirus – Copenhagen to Doha or Doha to Sydney – but by the time they landed in Australia on March 26, Vladimir unknowingly had the virus.

He was sick for 21 days.

The father and daughter self-isolated at Jennifer’s place while back in New Zealand Kelly scrambled to get a travel exemption for them to come to New Zealand. By then Nina had a New Zealand passport but officials here said their travel from Australia to New Zealand was not seen as essential.

“How can that be? How can a 13-year-old be separated from her mother and sister?” says Kelly.

Another application failed. A workmate suggested Kelly should contact her local MP. Once she got hold of Louise Upston, things started to happen.

“Within an hour of me contacting her, Louise had emailed me and put me in touch with Louise Allen in her Cambridge office. They managed to raise our case with the appropriate people.”

The third application was a success. Vladimir and Nina could join the family in Cambridge but only after a two week lock down in Auckland. They arrived on May 17 and quarantined at the Waipuna Hotel and Conference Centre – funnily enough a venue Vladimir knew well as he had been to a large conference there only two years previously.

“When Nina and I were sitting outside enjoying the sun one day, I realised it was the same spot I’d sat and contemplated moving to New Zealand,” says Vladimir.

Jennifer returned to Australia last Friday and two days later Kelly and Gabriela picked Vladimir and Nina up from Waipuna.

“I worried, I thought ‘oh no’ I hope she doesn’t have a crash coming up,” says Vladimir.

Neither of them has lost their sense of humour or love of New Zealand. Cambridge is the town they picked to live in because of its appeal and schools here have a high reputation, says Kelly.

A holiday with her father and stepmother in Taupo is first on the cards as is a break in Waihi Beach. There is a sign that things are starting to look up – they won an all-expenses paid weekend at the Waihi Beachhaven Holiday Park.

Nina has enrolled at Cambridge High School and starts soon in Year Nine. The small two-bedroom apartment in Lakewood has been ideal for three people but four is a bit crowded so they will be house-hunting for a rental until the property market settles down in Denmark and they can sell their house.

“Who knows when that might be, but I don’t care now. I have my family back together again,” says a jubilant Kelly.

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