CLEARWATER, Fla — A local man who called Clearwater homes for years found love in Ukraine and in January of 2022 went back for the big gesture — Chris Clark asked his girlfriend to marry him. Her name is Lena, and she said yes.
But weeks into their fairytale engagement the couple had to flee the country.
“We did do three continents in 24 hours,” Clark said.
February 24 is the day Russia officially invaded Ukraine. Clark and his fiancé remember the day well. She got up to go to her first day of work at a new job and when she returned not long after, she told Clark her boss sent them home because “the war is on.”
“You start to feel the frequency has changed and I’m looking at her like why do I have her here, we need to get her out of here,” Clark said.
They tried to get on a train out of Kyiv but Clark described the station like a scene straight out of the movie "The Titanic."
“I would’ve rather been anywhere but there,” he said. “That’s where I felt very unsafe because it’s the hysteria. It’s women and children first, the men are joining hands to form basically lanes so the women can get through the train. There’s pushing and shoving.”
The couple and others got in a car and drove to a village where a friend’s family lived but realized they couldn’t stay there either.
“As we were heading back to the village, we were still in town, fighter jet flies right over us, and a rocket whizzes right past us,” he said. “I feel like the angle of the jet, we could literally see the pilot.”
They ended up back in Kyiv where they stayed one last night near the city center before they got up and headed for a train to Poland.
“It’s just the most bizarre feeling because here you have this beautiful city of Kyiv, Europe’s seventh-largest city, we felt like we were the last two people in that city,” Clark said. “It felt like a comet came through and wiped everybody out. It was just like a ghost town.”
Clark said relief efforts in other countries were extremely heartwarming and after an incredibly long journey, the two arrived in Fort Myers on Easter Sunday.
Lena still has family in Ukraine. Her father and 21-year-old son are still there, and she has no idea when she’ll be able to see them again or get back to her country.
“She’s definitely worried, she doesn’t always show it but I can only imagine what she’s thinking,” Clark said.