Three Ukrainian nationals were arrested in rural West Texas after illegally crossing the border and then proceeding to get lost near Big Bend National Park. The three men allegedly walked for three days after crossing the Rio Grande near Lajitas, Texas. Brewster County Sheriff Ronny Dodson told local media that the men were apprehended on June 16 after stopping to ask a local rancher for help.
According to Dodson, an iPhone was confiscated from the men which contained photos of the group partying in Cozumel, traveling through Mexico, and crossing the border. Further investigations revealed that the men, Oleksandr Zelinski, Oleskii Storozhuk, and Vadym Berban, had allegedly intended to meet a ride coming from from Alpine, Texas which was to take them to Seattle, Washington.
The men initially avoided arrest for several hours after the rancher they asked for help called the sheriff. According to Dodson, it took horses and a helicopter to round the men up as they fled on foot.
“It’s not every day that we find Ukrainians, most illegal aliens we catch are pretty poor and frail. These guys were trained, I mean they were stout,” said Dodson when speaking to CBS Channel 7 Midland-Odessa.
According to local radio station KVLF, two of the men had previously been arrested and deported. Those two men are facing federal charges while the third is facing a federal misdemeanor charge of illegal entry since he had no prior convictions.
Brewster County and the Big Bend area contain a hefty chunk of the Texas-Mexico border. Despite the size, the area has the lowest number of apprehensions out of all the border sectors. Most of this is due to immigrants avoiding the dangerous terrain and remoteness on both sides of the border, which makes it bizarre that three Ukrainian men decided to cross here.
David Elkowitz, Chief of Interpretation, Partnerships and Concessions of Big Bend National Park & Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River, told K. Mennem that this section of the border is the most remote of the 2,000 mile border. “That said, yes we do have some issues with people walking north and the subsequent resource issues of new paths and or garbage. Also, there is some level of narcotics that do move threw this region. The park has law enforcement ranger and US Border Patrol agents both stationed in the park that help provide and keep a safe visitor experience. We have never had a visitor harmed in the park by folks from across the border and have little crime outside what is mentioned above, very little” said Elkowitz.
Lajitas, where the Ukrainians crossed into the US, is located where Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park meet along the border with Mexico. Barrett Durst, Big Bend Ranch State Park Superintendent and a local police officer, told Mennem that in four years he has only seen a handful of illegal immigrants in his area.
Big Bend National Park is also home to the southern borders only unmanned crossing. No border patrol officers are present at the bridgeless crossing, but a park ranger is present to guide travelers through the steps on a kiosk which corresponds with agents in El Paso. According to Elkowitz, only an average of 30 people cross this port of entry per day. Travelers must pay for a boat ride or wade through the water at the crossing which has been open since April of 2013.
The three Ukrainian men are currently being held in the Brewster County Jail pending further investigation by federal authorities.