Man with ties to Pawleys Island reflects on living in a country on the brink

  • Friday, May 9, 2014

AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko Pro-Russian gunmen stand with their weapons behind barricades in Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine, Friday, May 2. Ukraine launched what appeared to be its first major assault against pro-Russian forces who have seized government buildings in the country’s east, with fighting breaking out Friday in a city that has become the focus of the insurgency.

Chris Shaw recently spent time visiting his family in Pawleys Island with his wife and daughter.

It was a brief respite for the Shaws, who are surrounded by violence at their home in Ukraine.

Natives and longtime residents may remember Shaw from his work on the Mad Max morning show on WKDQ.

Five years ago he moved to Ukraine to be with his future wife, Tanya.

“The country is absolutely amazing,” Shaw said. “They’ve treated me very well. For the most part my stay here [in Ukraine] has absolutely amazing.”

The Shaws live in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine’s fourth largest city. Dnepropetrovsk is southeast of the country’s capital of Kiev and about four-and-a-half hours from the Russian border. Chris is a host on the English Club TV network and Tanya teaches English.

Chris, a lifelong New York Yankees fan, started Dnepropetrovsk’s first adult baseball team, which he named the “Bombers,” after the Yankees nickname.

For the first few years, life in Ukraine was good for the Shaws and their daughter, Emily.

Trouble started in November, when political unrest began to divide the country. President Viktor Yanukovych decided the country should be more pro-Russian, and the government suspended the process of Ukraine joining the European Union.

Months of protests, some peaceful, some violent, followed, along with riots.

Despite the violence, Shaw said he “didn’t feel threatened personally.”

Things began to change in February, when Yanukovych resigned and Russian troops occupied the Crimea region of Ukraine.

Shaw blames the trouble on a “small minority” of separatists who are backed by Russia and aided by Russian soldiers.

Tanya’s uncle, who is a general in the Ukrainian army, was abducted and tortured for five days and then released.

The uncle told Shaw, “you need to get out of here it’s not safe for you.”

A police officer also threatened Shaw because he is American.

“That’s when I realized, OK it’s time to get out of here,” Shaw said.

Things also began to change in Dnepropetrovsk, which he describes as “pro-Ukrainian.”

“People are very wary of each other. People watch what they say and do,” Shaw said. “You don’t who’s your friend and who’s your enemy.”

He said the mayor of his town gives $10,000 for every Russian separatists captured, and $1,000 for every Russian gun turned in.

Shaw is worried about traveling to different cities with his baseball team.

“Nobody plays baseball here,” he said. “When they see men with bats they automatically think it’s separatists.”

The situation is so fluid that Shaw noticed changes when he returned to the Ukraine last week. Before he and his family could re-enter Dnepropetrovsk they had to pass through three checkpoints that were manned with soldiers carrying Russian Kalashnikovs.

“It’s very unnerving,” Shaw said. “I don’t know my situation here being an American.”

He’s also very worried about his wife because she is married to an American.

Shaw is also apprehensive of what will happen this month.

May 9 is the day the country celebrates the Russian victory over Germany in World War II.

“It’s like a huge Fourth of July party,” he said. “The Kiev government is bracing for it.”

And then, at the end of the month, elections are scheduled.

“It’s the perfect opportunity to start something,” Shaw said.

Shaw has started a Facebook page, “Ukraine in Crisis,” to try and get information out to the world. He said the media, especially in America, is getting the story wrong.

“Nobody’s really covering the story and when they do they totally have no idea what’s going on,” Shaw said. “They don’t check their facts they just put out propaganda.”

He said he’s read stories about Nazis running Ukraine and the government trying to stop people from speaking Russian.

“The Ukraine government is not trying to make anybody speak Ukrainian,” he said, adding that he’s never seen Nazis.

While the Shaws were in Pawleys Island they hired a Charleston lawyer, Bob Lowe, to try and get Tanya a green card so they can return to the U.S. permanently.

“It’s a sure thing if you can prove it’s a bonafide marriage,” Lowe said.

Returning to the U.S. is something Chris’ parents have wanted him to do for awhile.

Lowe said the green card process usually takes 12 to 15 months, but could be expedited if people are in immediate danger.

The U.S. State Department recently issued a travel advisory for Ukraine, which could speed up the process for Tanya, according to Lowe.

Chris also spent time looking for a job in Myrtle Beach. He admits it’s “a little overwhelming” to think about moving back to the United States.

“Everything we own is [in Ukraine],” he said. “We’ve built something good [there].”

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