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From Scottsbluff to Kherson: Alex Tkachenko's Story

From Scottsbluff to Kherson: Alex Tkachenko's Story

Posted: June 15, 2022 | By: 21st Century Equipment Team

On February 24, 2022, Alex Tkachenko awoke to the sound of explosions. As export coordinator at 21st Century Equipment, Alex was visiting family in his hometown of Kherson, Ukraine, during a business trip to the country. Little did he know he would bear witness to the day Russia invaded Ukraine, effectively igniting a war between the two nations.

“[Russia is] always threatening to invade,” said Alex in a recent interview. “People were still in need of equipment, so I went on the trip in order to do my job. When the threat was made real, it was a shock.”

Those explosions set off a flurry of activity. First and foremost, Alex’s concerns were with his family, both those with him in Ukraine and his wife and daughter at home in Nebraska. Alex has served as part of the 21st Century Equipment team for 11 years. He and his wife, Natasha, immigrated to the U.S. along with their daughter in 2011. The family became naturalized citizens in 2017.

Alex’s instinct was to urge the family he was visiting to flee the country, but he was initially met with hesitation.

“I understood. This was their home. They worked all their lives, made payments; they have it paid off, and I’m telling them we need to go, leave and maybe never come back,” he said. “They simply kept asking where they would go. They said they had no relatives or close friends in western Ukraine, and it made more sense to just stay where they were in their home.”

Still, Alex knew inactivity was not an option. He ventured out into the town to gain a better understanding of what was going on and determine how he could help. It was during this time Alex would experience something more harrowing than many of us can even imagine.

During a traffic stop, Alex was approached by two armed Ukrainian soldiers. One asked if he could hide in the back of Alex’s car, which had tinted windows, in an effort to get a better look at what some Russian troops nearby were doing. Reluctantly, Alex agreed.

“As we [turn] onto the bridge, we see the Russian troops. I know because I see the Russian Kamaz trucks with the ‘Z’ sign with artillery in the back,” he said. “I felt like I was about to start panicking — what to do and where to go. But the guy told me, he was like, ‘Don’t panic, they’re not touching civilians.’ … And I just rolled down my windows in the front so they would see me and [see] that it looks like I’m alone in a car.”

After this, Alex made an illegal U-turn on the bridge (because “Who cares that day?”) just 30 feet from the Russians, allowing the Ukrainian soldier in his vehicle to take a closer look in order to report back on the situation.

“While the guy was reporting the situation, of course, I left the engine running because I knew we may have to get out fast,” Alex said. “Then when he was done, he starts yelling in Ukrainian language to get out of there, and we just took off. I didn’t know that a 1.3-liter sedan car with front-wheel drive [could] drive that fast.”

By the following day, many Russian soldiers would lay dead on that same bridge, where much of their machinery was also destroyed. With that, Alex knew he and his family could no longer risk staying in Ukraine. Eventually, he was able to persuade them to flee. After much stress and effort, they were all able to escape the country.

“I went to Ukraine with two suitcases, but I came back with one,” said Alex when speaking of the haste in which he and his family were forced to take action.

Since his arrival back in the U.S., Alex has vowed to help his countrymen still battling in Ukraine. He’s created a GoFundMe page, the proceeds of which will go towards helping Alex transport aid from Poland to Ukraine. His gratitude for his 21st Century Equipment co-workers and customers is immense.

“During my time being stuck in the warzone, I got tons of emails from my 21st Century [Equipment] colleagues… giving me good words of support and understanding,” said Alex. “That was amazing to be a part, and feel a part, of a family.”

To learn more about Alex’s story or donate, visit gofundme.com/f/help-alex-transport-aid-from-poland-to-ukraine.

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