Bakery owner helps Russian escape to Boston after refusing to fight in Ukraine war
BOSTON - With their entire lives packed in three suitcases, few people can understand the journey Viktor and Svedlana Provotorov have endured for a pursuit at a better life.
The husband and wife, 28 and 27 respectively, fled Russia last summer. Viktor had been outspoken against President Vladimir Putin and his war in Ukraine.
"We just left the country before they grabbed us," Viktor told WBZ-TV. "Things just changed at that one moment and you understand you don't have enough time to pack all the stuff and you just have to leave immediately or you go to jail."
The kind of rhetoric Viktor was expressing can lead to prison time. The draft is in full effect in Russia and evading it can result in more than a decade behind bars.
The Provotorovs spent weeks trying to get out of Russia legally. Viktor's anti-war rhetoric placed him on a no-fly list in Russia. They were forced to leave by foot at a border crossing.
Their 6-month journey would take them from Russia, to Kazakhstan, Turkey, Georgia, Mexico and eventually into the United States, all through the appropriate legal channels.
But it took the help of a friend from Boston.
"It took so many tries and so many different directions it kept twisting and changing," said Bob Katz, who owns My Grandma's in Boston. The bakery has been around for decades. Katz spends a good part of his year in Florida. It's where he met Viktor four years ago on a chance encounter. The two exchanged numbers and have stayed in touch ever since.
Katz helped process paperwork, hire attorneys, and even book hotel rooms for the couple along their trip. "I believe that if people need help and they can do better things for other people, you should pay it forward," said Katz. "I have always believed that. I can't stand to see someone suffering, especially someone I know."
After months of work, Katz was there Thursday night to welcome the couple at the gate at Logan Airport.
The couple was greeted with applause and a hug from Katz.
"I saw this sign that welcome to the USA and I was like, whew," said Viktor.
Through it all, the Provotorovs said it was the pursuit of the American Dream that kept them focused. The storied promise for a chance at a better life. They will now work at Katz's bakery.
"I saw you guys having a nice life," said Viktor. "You can say your opinion to other people. You can be free minded."
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