Panhandle businessman living in Ukraine shares his fears as he makes his escape near the Polish border

In the frigid February temperatures, they found their way to the border, crowded with thousands of women and children.
A Panama City business owner flipping the journey of Ukraine on its head.
Published: Aug. 28, 2022 at 1:36 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - A Panama City business owner flipping the journey on its head.

Patrick Pfeffer made the move to eastern Europe and was living in Kyiv during the invasion.

As you’ll hear, his journey was grueling and it’s not quite over yet.

For Patrick Pfeffer, the white sand beaches of Panama City have long been home.

Growing up in what felt like paradise, he later traded in the view for Florida State University.

“I went to Florida State University to get my undergraduate in business and finance, then I went to law school at the University of Miami,” said Panama City native Patrick Pfeffer.

But Pfeffer wouldn’t stay away for long.

After graduation, he and his family opened what would become a hot spot in Panama City called Club La Vela before Hurricane Michael clobbered the nightclub.

“The last hurricane did damage to the club and I decided not to reopen it,” Pfeffer said.

The damage from the storm brought with it the opportunity for another change of scene.

This time, Pfeffer would move to Germany and later land in Ukraine in 2018.

“People here really love freedom and the spirit that I see in these people and the hunger for freedom really inspired me. I wanted to be a part of that movement,” the Panama City native said.

Flash forward 4 years, and the Panama City native is now an established businessman who lives in Kyiv.

Just days before the invasion, sitting in his home watching American news, he heard the warning that Russia was moving in.

“I get American TV here and on American TV it said that it’s getting very serious and if you’re an American citizen, I’d advise you to leave the country,” Pfeffer said.

Pfeffer was concerned for his safety, he booked a week’s stay more than 300 miles west in Lviv.

Just a few days later, he heard the sounds of the first air raids.

“For the next two or three nights every single night, we had air raids and they destroyed the airport or at least hit the airport with rockets and stuff and I thought well this is getting really serious and I need to leave the country and I couldn’t leave. There were no trains, no busses, and no taxis and I had a really hard time finding a way out,” Pfeffer said.

As panic sets in, Pfeffer made frantic phone calls to friends, finally finding one who could help him to the polish border but the closest they were able to get him was 45 miles and the rest he would trek on foot.

“It was me and that lady because the man took his wife there because the men can’t leave. Men aren’t allowed to leave the country. Ukraine doesn’t allow men to leave the country because of the war,” the Panama City native said.

Pfeffer was allowed to escape because of his American citizenship.

In the frigid February temperatures, they found their way to the border, crowded with thousands of women and children.

“I mean I know crowds because I own a nightclub, a big one, this is about 30 thousand people. No toilets, no roof, no heat, no drinks, no diapers for babies, nothing. We had to sleep on the snow for two days before crossing the border,” Pfeffer said.

Pfeffer said among some horrific scenes, he tried to bring comfort to women and children he encountered.

“I’m a man and they look for me for defense. They look for security and I saw a lot of misery. I saw a lot of people carrying their pets, their dogs, and their babies,” Pfeffer said.

He is now living safely in Budapest and travels home every few weeks to check on his place and never sure what he might find.

“Every time I hear that air raid, I get goosebumps. I don’t exactly where this rocket is going to hit or whether the Ukrainians are going to shoot it down,” Pfeffer said.

Pfeffer said he can not wait for the day that he gets to return back to his home in Kyiv and he is grateful for everything that Americans have done for the country.

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