UPDATE: Tallahassee residents hear from Ukrainian friends now safe in Poland

A Tallahassee family with a nonprofit and community center in Southeastern Ukraine says one of their friends has made it to safety in Poland.
Published: Mar. 3, 2022 at 7:50 PM EST|Updated: Mar. 3, 2022 at 7:56 PM EST
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - A Tallahassee family with a nonprofit and community center in Southeastern Ukraine says one of their friends and his family have made it to safety in Poland amid the Russian invasion.

Teresa and Rich Fillmon’s connection to Ukraine is strong; the couple has served orphans, the homeless, people with disabilities and soldiers from there since 1998.

Along the way, the Fillmons met Leonid Makarov and his family.

Last Thursday, Feb. 24, Makarov woke up to a huge shelling attack on his city of Toretsk.

“It’s not war. It’s a crime. It’s a terrorist attack. They’re bombing civilians, schools, and hospitals. It’s unthinkable,” Makarov said.

Leonid, his wife, 8-year-old son and parents immediately packed their bags.

“We packed in 20 minutes. I told everyone to get up and bring everything you can, documents and some clothes,” Makarov said.

They began driving west for 22 hours straight and ended up near Kyiv.

“The roads were full of cars. In some places, we stopped for three hours because of traffic and there were huge lines at gas stations,” Makarov said.

On Friday, Feb. 25, they traveled to Lviv and took refuge at a school for two days.

“We slept on the floor, but we were happy we were there because it was dangerous in Toretsk,” Makarov said.

As the war got worse on Monday, they had to cross the border into Poland.

“My car was really bad. I didn’t think we would make it. Thank God we have our lives. We had to abandon our car somewhere in Poland. I don’t know where it is now,” Makarov said.

The Makarov family arrived in Warsaw, Poland, on Tuesday, March 1.

”We had to leave everything we had. Praise God we are alive at least,” Makarov said.

They planned to take a train to a friend’s house in Switzerland on Thursday, March 3.

“We really don’t have plans. We don’t know what’s happening next. My next plan is my next day,” Makarov said.

Despite the difficulty, Makarov is advising Ukrainians to flee, but he’s also concerned for those who can’t leave Russian-occupied areas.

Makarov has many friends in Kyiv that are staying in bomb shelters all night.

“They are having problems getting food, having problems with money. They are scared to death and bombs are landing everywhere,” Makarov said.

Makarov said his country needs some help, but they will continue to fight.

“Ukraine is not going to give up to Russia, never,” Makarov said.

Right now, he doesn’t see how the war in Ukraine will end.

“The biggest cause of this war is the Russian president. I don’t think Russia will stop. After all the deaths and crimes Russia has committed, I don’t see a diplomatic solution. But I hope there is one,” Makarov said.

The Fillmons have set up a GoFundMe page for Leonid and his family.

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