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Bengals' Drew Sample And Family Cope With A Month Of Change

Football is far from Drew Sample's mind these days.
Football is far from Drew Sample's mind these days.

Less than a month after Ang Sample's side of the family gathered in their homes in southwest Ukraine to watch her husband play in Super Bowl LVI, they are prisoners in them stuck some place between World War II and World War III.

"On the global stage you talk about how insignificant you feel and how a lot of it is out of your control," says Bengals tight end Drew Sample, who was stage right for 19 snaps against the Rams just 25 days ago.  "The reason we want to try and get the word out there a little bit is so people can understand how hard this is for these families and these people who are fleeing into really nothing."

Ang's family left Ukraine when she was a toddler and settled near Tacoma, Wash. She met Drew when they were at the University of Washington and by the time he arrived three years ago as the Bengals second-round draft pick, they were married and expecting their first child. Her sister arrived last year and the plan was for this spring to have Drew and the kids make their first visit to a country that is now at war.

"That's not going to happen now and I don't know when it's going to happen," Drew Sample says.

Now the reunion they're trying to pull off needs more than a plane ticket. The red tape is wrapped around surreal headlines yawing into the unknown.

"There's a lot of laws. There's a lot of rules. It's half a world away," says Sample, whose biggest concern not long ago was merely blocking Von Miller. "We're trying to talk to the right people and get educated on all the legal options and what is the best way to reunite safely."

Both sets of her grandparents are there. Her dad's brothers. Her mom's sister. They're trying to bring to Cincinnati her three cousins in their late teens. There have been calls to immigration lawyers, halls of government, help lines, charities. They are emboldened by the show of support and want to not only help their family, but those that no longer have homes and are in the endless lines of refugees.

"The thing that is the hardest on us is having no control of what's going on," Sample says. "We're trying to go through all the channels to potentially get them here with us."

The headlines are frightening. The video is horrific. The dispatches screaming straight out of centuries gone by. But the news from Chernivtsi is not nearly as harsh as it is in the major cities being bombarded while surrounded by Russian troops.

The city of about 260,000 is far enough west, about an hour from the Romanian border, to have avoided the crosshairs. But they've heard the bombs and seen the people carrying their lives in both hands trying to escape.

"There's somewhat good news," Sample says. "They haven't been bombed. The airport has been bombed. There are days they've had to shelter in place all day. They're trying to listen to the radio and figure out what's going on. They're listening for the air raid sirens. The power's gone on and off. It's hard on them."

They're talking to the family every day. One aunt and an uncle have become first responders. He's a paramedic and she's an athletic trainer, but now they are helping anybody they can. That means anything from going into the rural areas with food to directing women and their children to warmth and shelter after saying good-bye to their husbands leaving to fight. Her uncle has sent photos of people lined up for miles.

"Everybody is trying to do their part. To do what they can," Sample says. "It's a proud country. It's a proud people. Her grandparents say, 'We're not leaving. We're prepared to die here. This is our home. This is where we've lived.' A lot of people feel that way. They want to be where they know and around family.

"One of the biggest things we want to make people aware of is when they say, 'Just leave, it's not safe,' where are they going to go? In our case, the only other family they have is in America. A lot of other families, all their family members are in Ukraine."

When they talk to the family, they try to keep things light. Ang and Drew show them the girls running around without a care in the world. But that gets them thinking about the toddlers who are now in the cold and the snow with nowhere to go.

"A lot of perspective for us," Sample says. "We just want to educate people on just how horrible and hard it is for people."

One of her cousins was working out of the country on a visa when the war broke out and is now stranded alone in a strange nation. Another cousin just turned 18 three months ago and could be called into the fighting any day.

"I've got a brother who is 19," Sample says, "and I just can't imagine it."

They'd like to bring the cousins together in Cincinnati and it's just hard to fathom that less than a month ago there was quite a festive Sunday in Chernivtsi. Aunts and uncles went to their grandparents to watch Drew in the Super Bowl while their neighbors stayed home to watch a game on their computers that ended around 2 a.m.

Now they're listening for sirens at all hours.

"We can just control what we can control. I know that line is used a lot in football," Drew Sample says. "But that's life, too."