Posted: 3:18 p.m. Monday, Feb. 24, 2014

Local man returns safely from Kiev

By Meagan Pant

Staff Writer

A local man who was staying in an apartment just blocks from the violent anti-government protests in Kiev, Ukraine, has returned safely to the United States.

TJ Lewis of Sidney flew home on Saturday from his first trip out of the country to visit his fiancée in the Ukraine. Lewis had been staying since Feb. 9 in an apartment just three blocks from Independence Square, which was devastated in the clash between protesters and police.

Lewis said he was in his apartment when he heard a “couple of loud booms,” which he thought were a car backfiring. Then he heard the bells of St. Michael’s, ringing too many times to mark the time of day.

“I looked down and I saw people walking toward St. Michael’s, and they were wearing… camouflage with some helmets and gas masks,” he said. “For a while, the bells stopped ringing and I thought it calmed down. But as it got darker, I started to hear what sounded like fireworks and yelling.”

Lewis said he also saw young adults wheeling tires to the square to make barricades and one man rip a car door off a vehicle to use as a shield.

Lewis said he contacted his mother in Sidney and let her know he was okay.

“I went to call my embassy and they said if it gets really bad, go to the airport because all the roads were closed going to the embassy,” he said. “There were protesters outside the U.S. Embassy demanding the U.S. do something to help.”

Lewis said he felt safe in his apartment, which required a pin code to enter and a thick door. But as night fell Tuesday, he secured a ride from the city. He made a 10 minute walk with his two bags, traveling the opposite direction as the protesters to meet his ride.

He safely left the city and spent the next few days with his fiancée about an hour from Kiev until he could fly back to the U.S.

“Just looking back, it makes me more thankful for the rights we have here,” he said.

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