Serge Zevlever: Ukrainian dad who helped 3,500 special needs kids shot dead by Russian sniper
A hero dad in Ukraine, who helped find homes for as many as 3,500 special needs children, has become another tragic victim to Russian atrocities in the ongoing war. Serge Zevlever, a 62-year-old Ukrainian-American father, had helped hundreds of American families adopt specially-abled kids from Ukraine. A resident of St. Louis, Zevlever had headed back to Ukraine for work and was helping families escape when he was shot down by a Russian sniper. His death happened last week outside a bomb shelter in Kyiv.
At the time of the shooting, Zevlever was seeking protection for his wife and stepson near their high-rise apartment in Kyiv. As he stepped out to check on the commotion outside, he was struck by a Chechen sniper in front of his family members. His eldest daughter, who resides in St. Louis, shared, "He went outside to see if it was safe for everyone else, but they were aiming their guns right at the place where these people were sheltering. At the time, they thought no one was attacking civilians. But this is not true. It was just the most incredible injustice."
Zevlever's daughter Alisa Sander also added, "My dad was such a beautiful human, so the injustice is magnified by a million."
Zevlever was a well-known social worker, who facilitated adoptions for children with medical disabilities. He had been involved in the work for the past 30 years and split his time between St. Louis, Missouri, and Ukraine.
The Ukrainian law mandates children with disabilities be transferred to adult psychiatric institutions if they are not adopted by the age of 5 years. Zevlever dedicated his life to bridging that gap and helped find loving homes in the US for these kids.
A Ukrainian by birth, Zevlever fled to Italy with his wife and daughter during the collapse of the Soviet Union. There he protested the US ban on visa approvals by staging a hunger strike with his fellow refugees. His efforts bore fruit as the family eventually got the chance to migrate to the US and settle down in the St. Louis area. At present, both his daughters Alisa and Nicole stay there.
"It was a wish of his mother that he get out and find a better, free life for his family," his younger daughter Nicole told the St. Louis Dispatch. In fact, Zevlever even served in Desert Storm with US military after becoming an American citizen.
Following his retirement from active duty, he worked as a taxi driver and pizza delivery personnel, while also helping some of his relatives arrive in the US. It was towards the late 1990s that he found his calling in working for special needs children. He volunteered for an international adoptions agency founded by his Ukrainian friends, working as a Ukrainian liaison for American families.
He had been continuing the work tirelessly for more than 30 years, until his tragic death. In fact, barely days before his death, he helped Texas couple Kelcie and Theron Jagge flee Ukraine with their newly adopted son on the eve of the war. A heartbroken Kelcie offered a tribute to Zevlever in a Facebook post, writing, "I am in shock and heartbroken. He helped fight our case with the lawyer and was with us at the airport to rush us through security and get us on the flight to Istanbul."
His elder daughter also noted, "My dad knew what would happen if those kids were not taken and given a good home. He fought for those kids just like every single one was his own."