Richland — Ihor Rudych came to the United States 11 years ago because he "wanted to get a really good education, which isn't available" in his native Ukraine.
In that time, Rudych graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in geography, went to work as a geographic information system analyst with AgriNorthwest, and married his wife Kauri and started a family.
But Rudych knew he had one thing left to do, and that was to become an American citizen.
Thursday, Rudych was able to check that off his list as he joined 24 other local immigrants in a naturalization ceremony at the Richland Federal Building.
The new citizens represent 13 different countries and come from all walks of life. Some left a war-torn country with the hope of a brighter future and others ventured to America for a more promising job or educational opportunity.
"I think it's important for me to show an example of civic responsibility for my children, at least in a small way to influence a better life around me," said the smiling Rudych.
As he celebrated his new status, the Kennewick man acknowledged that his prayers have been with his family in the midst of the political upheaval in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. He said luckily his loved ones stayed home inside during the protests.
"I feel really good (about the recent changes) because I think finally people have a voice," said Rudych, who last visited in 2011.
The country is a lot different from when Rudych lived there a dozen years ago. Ukrainians now are not afraid to speak against government corruption, he said, though he is wary about the possibility of a war between Russia and Ukraine.
Rudych started the process for naturalization four years ago, first becoming a permanent resident. The final citizenship phase took five months.
Wife Kauri Rudych was born in America. They have an 18-month-old son, Bentley, and are expecting another boy in June.
"It's really a happy time for us, that's why we're going to celebrate" at a party with friends, said Ihor Rudych, 40.
Senior Judge Ed Shea of United States District Court presided over Thursday's ceremony.
After issuing the Oath of Allegiance, he welcomed the group and congratulated them on taking the step to reach this special day. Shea said it makes him think about when his ancestors from Ireland and England came across the Atlantic Ocean 100 years ago.
"They hoped their lives would be better for the journey, just as you hope your lives will be better for the journey," he said, noting that it isn't the same country as it was a century ago. "Looking around the room you can tell we are a country of immigrants. ... That is America, for all the hundreds of years we've been here in existence. ... Even the Native Americans made a journey to get here."
Shea told the citizens that years may pass but their country of birth always will remain in their heart, and encouraged them to continue recognizing their culture.
The citizens come from: Mexico, Philippines, Ukraine, Australia, United Kingdom, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Ghana, Ireland, Germany, Russia and Vietnam.
The process includes fingerprinting, an interview with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and a civics test.
"Millions of people have died to make this country free," from freedom of religion to freedom of speech, Shea said. "... Nothing is easy in America. There is no free lunch."
He suggested the citizens register to vote, saying in Washington state the ballots come to you so "you can vote right in your kitchen, having a cup of coffee, and express your views."
Representatives with the Franklin County Auditor's Office, the Washington League of Women Voters and the Daughters of the American Revolution, Columbia River Chapter, had tables outside the courtroom to offer information and help. Twenty-three people registered to vote.
Yvonne Boyd said that's one of the biggest reasons she applied for citizenship.
Boyd, 46, and husband David moved from England 14 years when British Nuclear Fuels Limited sent him to work at the Hanford site. They planned to be in Richland no more than two or three years, but soon came to enjoy the weather and the lifestyle, bought a home and settled down.
David Boyd became a citizen three weeks ago during a ceremony in Yakima. Yvonne Boyd felt it a valid reason to take her daughters, ages 8 and 10, out of classes for the morning to be with mom.
Aside from being an American now like her kids, Boyd said for 14 years she's watched different presidents go through the White House, key issues be raised like marriage equality and school bonds that could affect the girls' future. She never could have a say in any of it, until now.
Fadia and Thanoon Abdullah didn't want to go into the sad details of their departure from Iraq more than five years ago because Thursday was a happy day.
Fadia Abdullah, holding the couple's 9-month-old son Sam, would only say that they were refugees and left because of the war in their country.
Fadia, 40, and Thanoon, 56, admitted the naturalization process was difficult because they still were trying to learn English and had to do a lot of studying, but they pushed through. Now, Fadia Abdullah grins as she says the bulk of U.S. history is "copied in my mind."
"We feel very excited, happy, I can't describe it," she said. She has three other boys, ages 10, 16, and 18, who didn't make the ceremony. "If we become U.S. citizens, we can find a job. I can do anything."