Trading Places

In six hours, my fiancé and our little girl will wake to begin a journey to a new life, eventually landing themselves in America this July. But they are not simply leaving another country; they are leaving the occupied territory of Crimea, a peninsula quickly transforming into Russia’s “Florida” as throngs of Russians move in. She leaves during a time when her countrymen are becoming second class citizens in their own province, where their history and presence are disappearing like water into sand. Ukrainians are not welcome.

Courtesy: AFP

Border Checkpoint into Crimea: Courtesy: AFP

It perhaps would be a blessing if such invisibility would foster a graceful, easy exit from her homeland, but this is not the case. Leaving Crimea is like leaving a kind of prison. My family must first get to the Russian military, where Russia demands every article in the moving van be listed and searched, including women’s underwear. Such bizarre requirements perhaps would spark sarcastic indignation in many, but this is Russia. Being found with illegal brands of women’s underwear is a punishable crime, which Russia is enforcing.

Assuming my family gets past the Russian military, next the van must travel through a two to five kilometer demilitarized zone to reach the Ukrainian military. The wait to reach either army can easily take a full working day as each army diligently checks vehicles and people. Typically, travelers find the only reasonable option is to walk this distance with their luggage.

But beyond the logistics of getting past prison walls and guards is a weighty reality that this easily could be the last time seeing loved ones. While immigrants often do reconnect with family and friends, Crimea is different at this point. The international community will not grant Crimeans visas as the peninsula is not recognized as part of Russia. America and Europe have largely banned doing any business with Crimea, and Crimean men ages 16 to 60 – who are now presumably Russian – must demonstrate they have an invitation or close family in Ukraine in order to enter that country. Getting into Crimea can be just as challenging, and the war has made the situation all the more tense.

My fiancé is leaving behind most her family, including her grandfather who is a favorite of ours. She is leaving behind her best friends, all of whom became dear friends of mine. Our daughter’s biological father will not be able to see his daughter for years to come. This is a hidden cost from Russia’s aggression that pointedly became costly for us this week. And, as always, the value derived from our relationships is the strongest measure of what we have to lose.

We God bless all the wonderful people we must leave behind.

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