One Columbus man has his heart stuck in the Ukraine.
Longtime Columbus resident Steve Sutton is engaged to a Ukrainian woman, Natalie Omela, who remains oversees.
Sutton said he met Omela in May of last year while he went to the Ukraine with his friend, Malcolm Case of Norfolk. Sutton and Case have known each other for several years, having served in the Civil Air Patrol together for almost 20 years.
Case met a Ukrainian woman through an online dating website and, as he described, roped Sutton into joining the site as well. Both men visited the Ukraine last spring to meet the women they had been communicating with, though Sutton’s did not go through with the meet up. During the May trip, Case ended up proposing to the woman he was speaking with – Margo Balm. Omela was an attorney who completed legal paperwork for Balm, which was how she met Sutton.
After returning to the United States, Case told Sutton that Omela was interested in him so Sutton and Omela began communicating through text messages.
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Sutton and Case returned to the Ukraine in October. They spent several weeks there, and Sutton proposed to Omela in early November at a restaurant.
“I said to Natalie, There’s slang in the U.S. when a guy really likes a girl. He says to her, ‘hey, I’m crazy about you.’ What that means (is) he’s crazy in love with her and that’s what I am with you,” Sutton recalled.
As for Case, he proposed to Balm last spring after spending their last night together at an opera house and a nearby park.
“There’s the most wonderful romantic park in the world as far as I’m concerned,” Case said. “You’re overlooking the bay, you can see the likes of Eastern Odessa across the bay and there’s twinkle lights in all the trees every night of the year.”
Russia launched a full-scale invasion of the Ukraine on Feb. 24. Both Omela, who has a 28-year-old son, and Balm, who has a 40-year-old daughter and 22-year-old granddaughter, remain in the country.
Sutton noted his shock in hearing the news; he didn’t think the attack would actually happen.
“I thought (Vladimir) Putin would just make a lot of noise. …It just completely blew me away,” he said.
Case reported his reaction to be anger at the actions of President Joe Biden and frustration with the situation.
Both men try to communicate with their fiancées daily. Omela and Balm are pitching in for the war efforts where they can, Sutton added.
“Some days (Omela) is OK. And then I can just tell the way she’s texting me that she has a lot of anxiety and fear,” Sutton said.
“They have done some volunteer work over there, her and her girlfriend Margo. …Getting some food and supplies for the soldiers there and other ways … just to help out the war effort.”
Sutton said Omela is still going through the visa process. She still needs to undergo the required exam and interview, he added.
Sutton noted that he’s been coping with the situation by staying busy.
“I have an insurance business and I just try to stay active because if I think about it too long, it just destroys me,” he said.
Both Case and Sutton noted the resiliency and fighting spirit of Ukrainians. Case said he has visited the Ukraine almost every year since 2008.
“I love it there,” Case said. “The people are wonderful. It’s a wonderful, beautiful place. And these people are good, hardworking people.”
“I just fell in love with the country right away when I got there. They’re so friendly and they like Americans. They didn’t want this (to) happen, but they don’t want to go back to being a satellite of Russia like they were before because they’ve just had freedom now for a little over 30 years,” Sutton said.
“They’re holding up against a very large army; they’re holding their own. It’s just amazing. I’m so proud of them.”
Hannah Schrodt is the news editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read More:Columbus man has fiancée in Ukraine