Note: The name has been changed, but the facts have not.
A devout Evangelical Christian living in Crimea, Leo felt that God had a plan for him there. In 2003, he was involved with The Embassy of God Church and worked closely with American missionaries. He also worked with Bridges of Faith, which held summer camps for orphans, as well as Operation Lazarus feeding orphans and holding Bible studies.
It was in Crimea where Leo met his wife and where they had their two children. However, in the seaport city of Sevastopol, most Ukrainians were Orthodox believers of the Moscow Patriarchate. They harassed Leo and other Evangelical Christians, and accused them of being American spies. Leo preached tolerance and a common belief in Jesus Christ. The Orthodox followers weren’t convinced.
Leo also has Jewish roots from his maternal grandfather’s family who escaped to Ukraine during World War II. In Sevastopol, Jews were widely considered betrayers of Christ. Anti-Semitic graffiti in Sevastopol was offensive to Leo, motivating him to take a stand against all types of nationalism. He was vocal with neighbors, trying to convince anyone who would listen that Evangelical Christians and Jews were good and worthy people.
Due to his advocacy, Leo faced persecution through lawsuits, including efforts to take away his home. One lawsuit lasted four years, despite lack of evidence. Eventually, he won the fight to keep his home. However, due to the exhausting cycle of threats and with Crimea being annexed by Russia in 2014, Leo and his family moved to Kyiv as Crimean refugees.
Facing difficulties in Kyiv, the family moved to Leo’s hometown of Odessa in Southwest Ukraine. There, they experienced many tragedies including people burned alive in a Ukrainian-Russian stand-off. So Leo and his family escaped back to Kyiv.
Leo worked at a Christian radio station and Mission Ukraine. To reach the hearts of Ukrainian youth, he worked closely with American missionaries and a Christian rock band, Kutless, from Portland, Oregon. These touring events took place in six cities.
The family returned to Odessa, only to find the situation had deteriorated with acts of pro-Russian terrorism.
They arrived in the U.S. in September 2015 and initially resettled in Vancouver, Washington. The family sought help applying for asylum from LCSNW’s Safe Route Immigration program. They moved to San Diego in 2017, and in early 2019 they were granted asylum.