Plan of action

Ukrainian teen finds hope from connections all around the world


Contributed by Thomas Wright

This photo was taken in Kyiv, Anton’s home. Orchestra teacher Thomas Wright went to visit in July of 2019.

It was a normal morning for 19 year old Anton and the rest of the Ukrainian citizens until their normality was disrupted by a single bomb. As Anton sat in the comfort of his bed scrolling through his phone, he heard an explosion.
In an instant, blood began coursing through his veins, filling his head with uncertainty and fear. Immediately after, he dialed the only number that he was familiar with. The number for a person he called “Dad,” Thomas Wright, orchestra teacher at SHS.
With each ring, his heartbeat raced faster. Unsure of what the future held for him and the people of Ukraine, he began to plan an escape route.
Russia launched a full-scale invasion in Ukraine on Feb. 24, in an escalation of the Russo-Ukrainian conflict, which began in 2014. As a result of this rising conflict, Russia launched an attack on a military base located in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, near Anton’s apartment. During this time, Anton came to the realization that his home land would never be the same.
“I hope everything becomes as calm as it used to be,” Anton said in an interview with The Journal. “Most importantly, peace and no war are my highest hopes.”
A few hours after the attack, Anton began to gather his possessions and prepare to flee to a safer location. As he went to bus stations in search of bomb shelters, Anton witnessed a swarm of Indian immigrants climbing on top of each other trying to get on the buses with desperate expressions engraved on their faces. Fortunately, he was able to get on a bus and leave Kyiv.
“This situation taught me that you can’t take anything for granted,” Anton said. “Your time is absolutely limited and you have to do what you want to do right now.”
The attack on Ukraine has changed the course of Anton’s life. His close friends and family have been separated from him, leaving him alone and isolated on his journey to safety.
In the blink of an eye, his education, hobbies and family relationships were all shattered.
At the age of 8, Anton had been sent to an orphanage because his parents were unable to provide for and care for him since they were deaf. This is how he met the people he now considers to be his American parents. Anton applied to Project 143, an organization that places orphans from Ukraine with American families for the summer and winter hosting opportunities.
Anton applied to this program numerous times but was denied each time due to the high controversies surrounding teenage orphans. At the age of 15, Anton was finally chosen by Wright’s family.
“He calls me ‘Dad,’ and that’s a very special word,” Wright said. “There’s an aspect of family that’s biological, and there’s an aspect of family that’s spiritual. And he’s my son, you know? Not biologically, but spiritually.”
After staying with Wright, Anton had the greatest experience in the U.S. He had the opportunity to experience life outside of the orphanage as well as attend an American school here at SHS for six weeks. He also learned English and was able to live the American dream that he had heard so much about from his friends who had been chosen ahead of him. This piqued his interest and easily created some of the most unforgettable moments for him.
Wright intended to adopt Anton, but due to Ukrainian laws, they were unable to proceed with adoption after the age of 16. They attempted to get him a student visa, but that was also denied due to him being “an immigration risk to America.” Despite their efforts to persuade them otherwise, Anton was unable to secure a student visa.
“We were in the hotel in Kyiv. We got back from the embassy and it wasn’t going to work. I’m just crying and I was a mess,” Wright said. “And he’s like, ‘Dad no, it’s okay.’”
Since the adoption procedure failed, Anton lived in an apartment in Kyiv. He was able to visit the U.S. despite being denied adoption rights since he was still connected through the program. But after the attack, he hid from military services and police to avoid being recruited to fight. To get recruited, one does not need military or combat experiences. The only requirement is that they are healthy.
“If you have two arms and two legs, then you can go,” Anton said. “Nobody wants to die, especially at the early age of 19.”
During these difficult situations in Ukraine, Wright has expressed his concerns for Anton. Since he is unable to go to the U.S. due to strict limitations, the possibility of not knowing whether or not their son is alive caused them immense concern.
“The thing I am most worried about is that the replies would stop coming,” Wright said. “If he died in combat or died as a result of a bombing, no one would know us there to tell us, and that’s what scares me the most. We would never know about it.”
Even with the conflict in Ukraine being thousands of miles away from the U.S., Wright worries for his son’s safety and future. Since Wright had contacts in Ukraine due to his previous teachings there, he reached out to friends to help Anton get to a safer destination.
Reese Locken, an American friend of Wright, got in touch with Wright As soon as they learned about Anton’s situation. When Locken was traveling across Romania, he noticed that there were long stretches of borders that could be crossed and told Wright about this. After that, he suggested picking up Anton and getting him to a safer destination out of Kyiv.
“I asked people to not forget about this,” Locken said. “It’s going to start fading from the news very quickly, but there are no fewer people forced from their homes or hiding in basements. I hope that not one more family has to lose a mother, father, sister, brother or child.”
Wright also collaborated with the parents of Viktor Tarr, one of Wright’s former exchange students at SHS, to arrange a strategy to get Anton out of Ukraine and into Hungary. Tarr met Anton through Wright in the summer of 2018 and built a particular bond with him. Wright was Tarr’s host dad, and after learning that Wright was also hosting Anton, they spent the whole summer together.
“I feel a deeper connection to (Anton) as well,” Tarr said. “When we dropped him off at the airport in Chicago, he told me that he never had a family or a sibling. But, he said that he was so happy that he could finally find one in me.”

Victor Tarr (left) and Anton (right) are at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago on Jan. 19, 2019.This picture was posted on an Instagram page called, “Foreign Links Around the Globe” to commemorate how international connections can save lives.

Tarr was as astonished as everyone else when he first heard about the explosions in Kyiv. He never envisioned such a thing would happen in the 21st century. After living this nightmare, Tarr sees things in a whole new perspective.
During dinner in a restaurant with Tarr’s sister and her friends, one of her friends mentioned that her father worked on the Ukrainian border and might be able to help Anton and his situation. After two weeks of preparation, they were able to get Anton to cross the border, and Tarr’s father picked him up.
“He had to cross through a forest for five hours at night, and it was incredibly cold. He also had to cross waters that were knee-high waters, and it was actually freezing. There were drones watching, guards watching and it was an exhausting night,” Tarr said. “I was really worried, and seeing him in person after that and knowing that he actually made it out safely was an incredibly good feeling.”
Anton is currently staying with Tarr and his family in Hungary. Both Wright and Anton are relieved that he made it safely and is away from the military service and what’s been going on in Ukraine.
Although they are relieved, there is a concern that Anton may not be able to go back to Ukraine.
Wright is planning to travel to Hungary during spring break to reunite with him and discuss future plans. Anton intends to continue his education in America if circumstances permit, and he also intends to play soccer. Despite the fact that they have no idea what the future holds for them, their love remains unwavering and unchanging.
”I want him home. I want him with our family,” Wright said. “He’s got a family that will support him, and we can help him to mature into adulthood and keep him safe.


This is a text between Wright and Anton after the first explosion in Kyiv.