A US basketball player from Maryland was in Ukraine playing in international leagues about a week ago. He had no idea that within days he would be embarking on an urgent journey to return to his home, nearly 5,000 miles away.
For a little more than a month, Lucious “Lucky” Jones had been playing professional basketball in Ternopil, a town about two hours east of Lviv.
Coaches and league officials, however, ordered him to leave the country early last Thursday, as Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine.
Because the other teammates were Ukrainian, he and three of his teammates (two Americans and one Lithuanian) were the only ones alerted to leave. Marissa, his wife, and their four children — ages 8 and 5, as well as 2-year-old twins — were about 5,000 miles away in Maryland.
Around 2 a.m., she received a phone call from Lucky. “He said, ‘I gotta get out of here, I’m leaving but I have no idea what’s going on,'” Marissa told reporters on Tuesday.
Lucky’s cell phone signal was spotty, so the couple kept in touch sparingly over the next few days. Marissa stated that he FaceTimed her whenever he could.
Since the start of the war, large numbers of Ukrainians have fled the country. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, approximately 500,000 people have fled to other countries in Eastern Europe. The teammates quickly packed their belongings that morning, and a few hours later they were picked up by a car to begin what would be an exhausting journey home.
They’d been given no directions, and Lucky wasn’t sure which country they’d be visiting.
Their first move was to travel to Poland, a neighboring country to the west, as it was the safest option at the time. When officials informed them that the borders were closed, the car turned around and returned to Ukraine.
The next best option was to travel to Romania in the south. They had to get out of their car and walk a few miles as they approached the border. The men slept little and went to the bathroom outside only when absolutely necessary. Lucky described a gas station they came across at 1:30 a.m. as a lifesaver because they were able to get a quick bite to eat.
Not only were things mentally exhausting, but they were also physically exhausting. Temperatures were below zero, and they were carrying their bags the entire time.
And things only got worse when they ran into trouble at the border.
Lucky claimed that border patrol officers were refusing to let them in, despite the fact that crowds of people were also attempting to cross. “It was terrifying because we had no idea what was going to happen,” he explained. Back at home, Marissa was doing everything she could to assist Lucky. She stated that she contacted the Romanian Embassy to see what information they could provide her regarding her husband.
The players were eventually allowed through and boarded a train to Bucharest, Romania’s capital.
The group was able to get a flight out of Romania to Amsterdam, Netherlands, on Friday morning after a six-hour train ride to the capital.
They were able to get a hotel there, according to Marissa, allowing them to finally rest, shower, and change their clothes.
Another flight brought them to Dublin, Ireland, and then to the United States. Marissa was at home, trying to stay calm for Lucky and the children as he traveled through country after country.
Marissa explained that their oldest child had an idea about what was going on with the invasion, but she kept everything hidden until she knew Lucky was safe.
When Lucky crossed the Romanian border, she informed her children that their father was safe and that they could communicate with him via FaceTime.
Lucky, Marissa, and the rest of his family were overcome with relief when he finally landed at Dulles International Airport on Saturday.