2 men sail from Russia to US to flee persecution, settle in Tacoma

The two men’s sponsor said the choice they faced was a simple one, but also one only a few people could make.
2 men sail from Russia to US to flee persecution, settle in Tacoma
Published: Jan. 31, 2023 at 7:37 PM AKST|Updated: Jan. 31, 2023 at 7:42 PM AKST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

SEATTLE (KING) - Last October, two neighbors, identified as Sergey and Maksim, were conscripted to fight in the conflict between their home country and Ukraine.

But instead of fighting, they decided to flee.

In a 13-foot-long boat, the two men braved storms and raging waters to travel around 300 miles from Egvekinot, Russia, eventually landing near Gambell, Alaska five days later. When they arrived, the pair was sent to Anchorage for processing.

When the two men were scheduled to go to the ICE NW detention center in Tacoma, a Ukrainian pastor in Alaska reached out to Roman Mittin.

“What they did was very brave because not many people can do that,” said Mittin. “Not many people can say, either we will go and have a free life, or we’re going to die. That’s the decision they made.”

Originally from Ukraine, Mittin runs a church in Tacoma, and helps refugees from Russia and Ukraine get settled in the U.S. Mittin says he was more than willing to sponsor them and set them up with shelter and resources.

He also said the fighting Sergey and Maksim are fleeing is all too familiar, and many Russian nationals are taking flight.

“My hometown has been fighting since 2014, so when the major war happened, we started helping out refugees even more,” he said. “If you’re on the Russian side, you have to go to someone’s house, and take over their house. It’s not the right war. I think the majority of the people understand it, they just don’t want to do it.”

Attorney Nicolas McKee is also helping the two men process their cases through the system.

McKee says it can be challenging finding places for folks like Sergey and Maksim to go once they’re released from custody and wait to have their asylum cases heard.

“They’re willing to make homes here, but it’s still a lot of work to get there,” he reveals. “Almost every person I worked with has had that desire, like ‘I’m leaving my home behind, not because I wanted to, but because I had to’.”

McKee also says Sergey and Maksim’s story all too common among those fleeing political persecution from their government.

“Their story is unique because of the journey, their passion, their work to get here, and obviously because the world cares about the war in Ukraine,” McKee says. “At the same time, we can’t lose focus of the fact that there are thousands of Sergeys and Maksims fleeing that persecution in various parts of the world every day.”