On his first date with Elena Gybareva in Crimea, Eric Godt of Centerville made her a lunch unusual for the region.
I made a low-country boil. I brought the spices with me. I found the corn. I found the shrimp. I found the sausage. I made a low-country boil for her, so she could know, Hey, he doesnt need me for a cook or anything, Godt said Wednesday. He said he knew right away she was the right woman for him.
He asked her to marry him a number of times, but it wasnt until theyd known each other for two years, in 2010, that she said yes.
But Gybareva remains in Crimea, in Sevastopol, headquarters of Russias Black Sea Fleet, on what today is Ukrainian soil. On Sunday, residents may vote to separate from the Ukraine and become part of Russia. Gybareva, 34; her 16-year-old son, Denis; and her bedridden mother are all ethnic Ukrainians. Crimea itself is largely comprised of people of Russian ethnicity.
For a time, the international romance was free of international crisis. Godt said he typically traveled there twice a year since they met through an Internet dating service in 2008. Godt said he started getting worried during his last visit, in October, about a month before the first protests in Ukraine began.
I knew something was going on, said Godt, a 59-year-old retired U.S. Army master sergeant who worked in intelligence.
Ukraine was soon torn between protesters who wanted the country aligned with Europe and a government that wanted tighter ties with Russia. Around then is when Godt began emailing federal officials for help; his third email to the White House was sent Wednesday. But he also reached out to the offices of Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who Godt said was born in the same hospital in Panama as he was, and Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, whose state includes a substantial Ukrainian population.
Godt said Gybarevas family was disturbed at the protests, which undermined an elected government. Now, they see Russian troops and personnel carriers in the streets.
The people in the Ukraine scare them, and now the military scares them, too. With her being a nurse, shes worried theres going to be a lack of medications at the hospital and for her mother. Prices have doubled at the grocery store. ... If I had $4,000, $5,000, in my back pocket to be able to fly them over here, I would, Godt said. But ... theres no guarantee theyd be allowed to leave or that theyd be allowed access to be here.
Jennifer Perlman Moore, a Macon immigration attorney, said the U.S. government does not appear to have a way to expedite a request for a U.S. citizens fiancee and her son to be allowed into the country. Its also not unusual for there to be challenges with dealing with the hardship of an aging person overseas, she said.
Theres no clear policy guidance that I can point to that says, in this circumstance, This is your way forward, said Moore, who is not familiar with Godts circumstances and has not talked to him.
Moore said asylum is typically available only to people who are persecuted under a specific set of circumstances, not people who live in a militarized area. She suggested Godt could better focus his efforts with help from a lawyer.
Godt said he doesnt know if he should fly to Crimea, either. Hes heard the airport there now only allows Aeroflot flights to Moscow and doesnt know if hed be able to leave the area if he had to. The U.S. Embassy in Kiev says Americans should avoid all non-essential travel to Ukraine -- and particularly trips to Crimea.
Ultimately, after his future mother-in-laws health improves, he wants them all at his home in Centerville, where hes already got green beans and radishes growing in his sunroom for Gybareva.
Hes got a hospital bed set up for her mother, and he knows her son will thrive in American schools. Gybareva has never been to Centerville but knows his house from pictures.
She loves the backyard, he said, and wants to join him to eat figs, apples, plums, pears, peaches and pecans grown in his American soil.
He doesnt know if he can bring Gybareva here as his fiancee or under asylum or some other procedure.
Hes hoping he can find a way for everyone to get out safely, to get to Centerville. He wants one of his emails to get him an answer.
Itd be nice to have something saying, Yes, I can take them out of the country, and yes, I can get them into this country legally, he said. We dont want to do anything illegally. We plan to get married. She calls me her husband. I call her my wife. He calls me dad, sees me as his father.
You dont like being ignored. I spent 20 years in the Army, 16 years out of country, in some crappy places, and never asked for anything, he continued. And here I ask for anything, and youre placed on ignore.
To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.