How St. Louisan Edward Tsimerman got his friends out of Russia


BILL MOTCHAN, Special to the Jewish Light

Eight years ago, during a photography workshop in Greece, Edward Tsimerman met Anastasia and Ilyia, a Russian couple (they asked that their last name not be used). Tsimerman, a Jewish St. Louisan, kept in touch with the couple and in recent weeks, learned his Russian friends were distressed about the war in Ukraine.

Actually, they were prohibited by law in Russia from calling the conflict a “war.” Doing so on social media can cost Russian citizens their jobs and friends. It also carries a jail term of up to 15 years. Vladimir Putin refers to the situation in Ukraine as a “special operation” and Russians who don’t follow suit do so at their peril.

“They were very upset about the war,” said Tsimerman, 44. “They said they couldn’t keep living there and bringing up a child, that it was difficult previously, but now it was intolerable. So we were messaging and I told them ‘Come here.’ I told them I would be their sponsor and that I have a house I’m remodeling where they are welcome to stay.”

On Sunday night, Ilyia, 42, Anastasia, 44 and their three-year-old daughter Daria arrived in St. Louis with a little cash and the clothes on their backs. They speak no English and have no family or jobs here in St. Louis. What they have is a warm bed and a safe home in Olivette.


They also have a good friend in Edward Tsimerman.

Since the family’s finances are in a Russian bank, and held by economic sanctions, they had no way of paying for travel. Tsimerman took care of that, too. He purchased them tickets from a Turkish airline to leave Moscow and travel plans that would take them to Cancun, Mexico. He also secured a five-day stay at a Cancun resort, part of the charade so Russian customs wouldn’t hold up their departure. A return trip was also on their itinerary, making it look like this was merely a long weekend on the beach.

How Edward Tsimerman got his friends out of Russia

In reality, there was no time for sun and tequila. From Cancun, the Russian family immediately flew to Tijuana and crossed the border into San Diego. Ilyia, Anatasia and Daria are not Jewish, but another Jewish connection assisted them in getting through U.S. customs.

“Jewish Family Services helped them at the border, got them a hotel room and got them to the airport for the trip to St. Louis,” Tsimerman said.

Tsimerman has a special empathy for refugees and immigrants. He came to the United States 25 years ago at the age of 18 from Uzbekistan. He helped his mother run a home health care agency, which specializes in services to low-income immigrants. Then he ventured into home remodeling, his current profession. He also earned a master’s degree in architecture from Washington University.

Merrick Felder, a Jewish architect, said the selfless actions he saw from his Olivette neighbor, Edward Tsimerman, didn’t surprise him at all.

“He’s definitely that kind of person, very sweet-natured and generous with his time,” Felder said.

Said Tsimerman: “I did it because it was the right thing to do. I can’t imagine living there in Russia. I just had a child two years ago and that changed a lot of my perspective about what it means to have a family. When I found out they had a three-year-old, I knew I had to do something. it was a lot of legwork, but I was happy to do it. I feel awesome.”

Ilyia and Anastasia are now awaiting a court date, scheduled in two months, to obtain work permits. They plan on building new lives in St. Louis.