A 9-month-0ld American boy stranded at the Ukrainian border for more than a week is finally safe after his family hatched a plan to cut through the bureaucratic red tape that had trapped him and his mother in a war zone.
“We got over the border,” baby Seraphim’s mother texted her father, Dr. William Hubbard, from a Slovakian village late on Saturday. “And the police came to pick us up and everybody’s been so good to us.”
Hubbard, the child’s grandfather, flew from his home in Fitchburg, Massachusetts to Ukraine when war broke out last month. Having worked for weeks to rescue Seraphim and his daughter, 19-year-old Aislinn, Hubbard decided he’d had enough with the tangle of protocol blocking the pair’s exit.
So, he told the Daily Beast on Monday, he and Aislinn’s boyfriend—Seraphim’s father—plotted an alternate escape route for the family through “the wilderness and the foothills of the Carpathian Alps” using satellite maps.
After two practice runs on Thursday and Friday, Aislinn and her partner set off into the mountains, carrying the baby between them. Hubbard watched their progress anxiously on the Find My Friends app.
Red-Tape Nightmare Has American Baby Trapped in Ukraine
The reason behind the Hubbards’ desperate bid for freedom was maddeningly simple: Seraphim didn’t have a birth certificate. Aislinn, who moved to Kyiv to study ballet at age 16, had a home birth last June. She was afraid her baby might contract COVID-19 in a hospital, where he would have automatically received a birth certificate.
Worried as Russia continued to amass troops on the border, Hubbard first alerted US officials of a potential problem in December.
“I said, ‘Hey, here’s the situation, we got this little boy who doesn’t have a birth certificate,” Hubbard told the Beast last week. “It could be two to six months before we get one. What are you guys going to do in the case that war breaks out?’ And they said, ‘I don’t know.’”
After flying to Ukraine in early February to retain a lawyer and check on his daughter, Hubbard arrived safely back at home in Fitchburg on Feb. 23. Hours later, Russia invaded.
As Aislinn and her boyfriend scrambled to keep their baby safe, Hubbard turned around and flew back to meet them. Faced with a “freaking nightmare” unfolding around them, the family packed up and made their way to the Slovakian border, having been told by US embassy officials that they would have no problem crossing.
But Ukrainian officials at the border were confounded by the document’s absence, and placed them in a detention center. They then offered to let the Hubbards through—without Seraphim.
“And we’re like, ‘Are you freaking outta your mind?’” Hubbard recalled.
Spat back out of detention into Ukraine, Aislinn and Seraphim were now battling dysentery. And with US officials allegedly responding to Hubbard’s increasingly desperate pleas with little more than shrugs, the grandfather decided enough was enough.
Aislinn and her boyfriend started their trek at around 2 pm on Saturday, according to Hubbard. They walked for roughly five or six hours, by his estimate of him, with the sun going down and the cold setting in. At one point, Aislinn and Seraphim slipped down a small ravine, ending up in a river, soaked but unharmed.
For the last hour or two, the family walked “in the pitch-black through the forest,” he said. Then they reached the Slovakian village.
The couple walked into what they thought was a little corner store. “It turned out to be a bar,” Hubbard said, “and they had everybody there looking at them.” The tavern’s Ukrainian-speaking denizens helped the couple surrender themselves to the authorities.
The Slovakian police got Aislinn and Seraphim a change of clothes, Hubbard said. In a matter of hours, they were also given three sets of European Union papers offering them temporary protection.
Meanwhile, Hubbard had slogged his way back to the official border checkpoint that had denied the family before. Dragging five duffel bags, two cat carriers, and a backpack a mile and a half in 50-foot intervals, it was slow going, he said.
After the Ukrainian authorities delayed him at the border for more than an hour, they finally let him through. Exhausted, he checked into a hotel in the town of Kosice, the family’s planned rendezvous point.
He didn’t think Aislinn and his grandson would show up until the next day, having assumed that the Slovakian authorities would drag their feet in processing them. “But she called me around 6:30 in the morning and said, ‘Hey, they released us,’” Hubbard recalled. “’We’re gonna grab a taxi. We should be there in about an hour and a half.’”
Hubbard went downstairs and booked another hotel room. “And everything was good,” he said.
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