New Hampshire native safe after fleeing Ukraine

·3 min read

Mar. 10—A New Hampshire native who fled his Kyiv home last week flew into Logan Airport on Tuesday afternoon, his final stop on a journey that included a ride over the Ukrainian border in the cab of a tractor-trailer.

His adventure out of the besieged country included impossibly crowded train stations and a confrontation with a militia group. Eventually, he worked his connections in the international development community to flee the country.

"Getting out was quite an experience, a lot of suspense," said Cavanaugh, 61, in a telephone interview from Portsmouth, where he is staying temporarily.

Now safe, he plans to raise money for humanitarian causes in Ukraine and is trying to get his girlfriend out.

Cavanaugh, a Bedford native and graduate of West High School in Manchester, said Russian President Vladimir Putin "is doing everything in his power to destroy Ukraine."

He worked for former U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg before eventually looking outside the country for a career. Cavanaugh said he has worked 20 years with international agencies that promote democracy.

About 10 months ago, he visited the capital of Ukraine. He expected to stay a month, but grew fond of Kyiv. He made friends, polished his Russian language skills and started thinking about resettling in Kyiv in semi-retirement.

He stayed put when the Russian invasion began. But as ex-pats and wealthy Ukrainians fled the capital, he took a train to Lviv, about 40 miles from the Polish border.

There, the State Department advised him to go to the train station if he wanted to leave the country. He went at night, convincing a taxi to avoid curfew checkpoints, but found a jammed train platform. Most were students at Ukrainian universities, many from Africa or the Middle East, trying to get home.

He returned to his Lviv hotel. The next day, he wandered the city, viewing the city sights and taking photos with his phone.

Members of a local militia wielding Kalashnikov rifles surrounded and questioned him.

"They could not understand what I was doing," he said.

His connections in the international community got him out of the country. A woman he met in Cambodia through the National Democratic Institute reached out to him after reading his social media posts. She was involved with a humanitarian organization, We Are One, that was shipping supplies into Ukraine but coming back with empty trucks.

Their first two attempts failed.

"Windows of opportunity open and close very quickly," Cavanaugh said. On his third attempt, he rode in the cab of an empty tractor-trailer, sharing it at one point with a mom and her young children who were walking toward the border crossing.

Cavanaugh is now planning a fundraiser on the Seacoast for Ukraine. And he's in touch with his girlfriend back in Kyiv every day.

She spends most of her time in the bomb shelter, which is the underground Metro station.

Initially, she refused to leave without her family, who live near Odesa. But Cavanaugh has the university student convinced that her family would feel better knowing she is safe.

"She's horrified," Cavanaugh said.

mhayward@unionleader.com