Home Taxi driver Family settles locally, war refugees | Local News

Family settles locally, war refugees | Local News


A southern son with strong Georgian roots, Pastor Ottis “Chip” Taylor is settling in well in his new surroundings in the Golden Isles.

But please don’t expect this world-weary expat to start calling him home anytime soon.

“People keep saying to me, ‘Welcome home,'” Taylor told The News on Thursday. “I know what they mean, and it’s appreciated. But it’s not my house.

For Taylor, the house is a ramshackle farmhouse on the corner of a war-torn Eastern European country. But this place, where homegrown organic vegetables once produced salsas to support an addiction recovery and mental wellness program, might as well be on the dark side of the moon today.

“Ukraine is my home,” Taylor, 60, said. “I wanted to grow old with my wife and die on this farm. I can’t see us ever coming back now.

Taylor’s home is the source of daily gruesome images reminiscent of old black and white images from World War II, the mighty army of a brutal despot spilling over the borders of a sovereign nation amid growing numbers of civilian deaths. Home is a place from which social media and 24-hour news outlets now broadcast daily scenes of death and destruction in overly bright colors.

“I want to cry every day,” Taylor said. “It’s like ‘Ground Hog Day’, the movie, but a horror movie. Everyday.”

And the house is a place where everyone, from regular soldiers in the Ukrainian army to rock musicians and pizza makers, took up arms to launch a stubborn and fierce resistance against the invasion of the young democracy by the Russian dictator. Vladimir Putin. He knows many fighters, including a stepson. And the few he knows who have already died in battle are far too many.

“All of these places are bombed, either I have friends who live there or I have friends I knew who were killed fighting there,” Taylor said.

Taylor just received the sad news via a Facebook post that her friend Raf had passed away.

“I had a friend who was killed the other day while fighting in Mariopol,” he said.

Her son-in-law, Misha, joined the fights, as did her daughter-in-law’s husband, Anna.

“I don’t know exactly where, but he’s probably with a paramilitary group,” Taylor said of Misha. “He fights with them.”

Taylor and her 7-year-old son, Daniel, left their farm in western Ukraine at the end of February, crossing the Polish border on February 19 as the Russian invasion was imminent. They reached America a few days later via Miami International Airport and joined Taylor’s sister on St. Simons Island. Russian bombs began falling on his adopted homeland on February 24.

Taylor’s Ukrainian wife, Lidia, crossed into Poland on a much more tense trip soon after, taking a circuitous route from Warsaw to Spain to Miami, reuniting her husband and son on the island on March 3. Saint Simons.

Taylor now works as a counselor at Golden Isles Treatment Center, a 12-step addiction treatment center in Brunswick. He has dedicated his life to helping alcoholics recover, a journey that began a century ago not far from here in Statesboro. While his return to Georgia may seem like the trip closure, Taylor says he left his heart in Ukraine.

“That farm was my home,” he said.

After spending the past 16 years in Ukraine working with recovering alcoholics and those suffering from PTSD and other mental health issues, Taylor has made lasting connections with the nation and its people.

A recovering alcoholic himself, Taylor became an ordained minister in Screven. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, Taylor also dabbled in organic farming on a small plot near Brewton.

Taylor spent more than 15 years at Willingway Hospital for the treatment of alcohol and drug addiction in Statesboro before feeling called by God to overseas missionary work.

“I wanted to go to Africa,” Taylor said.

So he left for Africa in 2006. But during a layover at the Atlanta airport, Taylor met faith-based addiction counselors who were on their way to a treatment center in Russia. He eventually made his way to Moscow, where he found his personal experience with alcoholism and his knowledge of 12-step recovery programs to be very helpful.

In 2009, Taylor found himself promoting recovery and mental health in Melitopol, Ukraine. Here is a Southern Baptist preacher on a Presbyterian-sponsored overseas mission pursuing his calling for little more than room and board in an Eastern Orthodox monastery. And that’s when he meets Lidia, a faithful Catholic. Lidia has a master’s degree in English, so at least they spoke the same language.

Their first date was at the church.

“This woman knows that I am a pastor. She knows I live in a monastery for just room and board and she invites me to go to church with her,” Taylor said. ” Who do this ? I knew I had to get to know this woman better.

They married in June 2013. The Russians invaded in 2014. Few Ukrainians will forget Putin’s first attack, a bloody incursion that led to the annexation of Crimea. That action has led to a protracted separatist conflict and many in Ukraine see the current Russian assault on Ukrainian soil as an extension of that, Taylor said.

In the years since 2014, Taylor has found himself helping more and more Ukrainian soldiers struggling with drug addiction and PTSD. Many of the bonds formed then led to lasting friendships with soldiers who are now fighting for Ukraine’s freedom, he said.

One such friend is Leonid Ostaltsev, who founded the popular Pizza Veteranos in the capital of kyiv. He is back in action. It was through Ostaltsev’s Facebook page that he learned of Raf’s death.

“I was at his wedding,” Taylor said. “I held her child. I went to his house.

Taylor and Lidia acquired this small farm near the Romanian border in 2016, setting up an agriculture-centric processing facility. When growing market vegetables proved unsustainable in the country known as Europe’s breadbasket, they discovered a niche in salsa. It seems that the Ukrainian demand for Mexican dishes was not enough.

“A friend in kyiv said, can you do salsa?” Taylor said. “Of course, I can do salsa. So we started growing all organic produce for good Mexican food. That’s what paid our processing center bills.

But Putin’s designs on Ukraine have been simmering for a long time. Rumors of an impending invasion were boiling over as 2022 dawned, he said. Then one day, out of the blue, Taylor received a summons from a friend at the US Embassy in Kyiv, a lieutenant colonel who must remain anonymous, he said.

“He says, ‘You have 24 hours to get out of the country,'” Taylor recalled. “I said, ‘Uh…’ I couldn’t go. I said, ‘We have a farm here. We have goats, chickens, horses, pigs. He said, ‘You have 24 hours.’

Young Daniel is an American citizen, but his passport was not up to date. Nevermind. Lidia told Taylor to take their son and leave. She would catch up. The lieutenant colonel put them in touch with a taxi driver, a guy named André. Andre put them in a vehicle with another driver and they drove to the Polish border.

“I waited a long time there,” Daniel recalled, playing video games Thursday in an office at the Golden Isles Treatment Center on Union Street. “It took forever.”

Taylor explained on her cell phone to André that the Polish guards were afraid to let them cross.

“Andre said, ‘Let me talk to them,'” Taylor said. “André was obviously not just another taxi driver.

“He spoke to them. They are silent. They returned the phone to me. I asked André what he had said. He didn’t say. But I thought they were going to greet me afterwards.

So Taylor and Daniel crossed the border. From there they went to Warsaw, then to St. Simons Island. Lidia followed soon after on a packed bus, an ordeal that included a 24-hour stop at the border before crossing into Poland. With a tight budget, things got tough for Lidia from there. But friends from the recovery community rallied on social media, funneling money through a lady from San Antonio to Spain to bring Lidia to the United States.

Taylor’s American ex-wife even picked up Lidia from the Miami airport and drove her to St. Simons Island, he said.

The family slowly acclimatizes to the Golden Isles. Taylor felt lucky to find work at the Golden Isles Treatment Center.

“I help people, that’s what I do,” he said. “This company has a mindset that helping customers is more important than making money.”

Meanwhile, on the farm, the farm hosts refugees from the hardest hit regions of Ukraine. Here in America, Taylor and his wife are networking to raise money for the cause back home. Like many people, they make big differences in small ways by sending money raised to help displaced soldiers, civilians and animals.

Above all, they are homesick. But Taylor nodded to Daniel, who was nonchalantly playing video games while the two adults talked about the war and its horrors.

“When I see on the news that they’re burying children in their yard in Ukraine, I know I did the right thing by coming here,” Taylor said.