Aspen resident keeps daily tabs on her family in Ukraine

Russia-born oligarchs have Snowmass homes but no sanctions on them yet

Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich is listed as a donor on the side of the Chabad of Aspen as of Tuesday, March 1, 2022. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Nataliia Schumacher works in the Aspen hospitality industry, which means she’s exposed daily to gleeful visitors escaping to fantasy land. She also moved here in 2009 from Ukraine, a place where she said her relatives and friends are “just trying to live” ever since Russia invaded its western neighbor last week.

Though nearly 6,000 miles away from Ukraine, Schumacher said she regularly texts, Facetimes and messages friends and family about the war, and she also gets her information through a steady diet of Instagram posts, a Ukrainian news source on YouTube, and CNN among other sources.

“I wake up texting them to see if they’re alive,” Schumacher said Tuesday of her family and friends in Ukraine.

Earlier in the afternoon Schumacher had just finished communicating with relatives in Kharkiv, Ukraine, which was being bombarded by Russian artillery.

“I was checking with my relatives in Kharkiv,” she said, “and it sounds like they are getting bombed. … I was checking to make sure they are alive.”

Central Ukraine — an area with cities and towns “that have not yet heard the boom of Russian artillery fire,” The New York Times reported Monday — is where Schumacher’s parents live and are preparing for the worst, she said.

“They are volunteering and donating everything to the army,” she said, adding she has a 24-year-old nephew fighting for the Ukrainian military.

Aspen resident Nataliia Schumacher, formerly of Ukraine, provided multiple pictures of the damage inflicted by Russian artillery in Kharkiv, Ukraine, where her cousin’s friend took numerous photos Tuesday. She received the photos Tuesday morning.
Yuri Kochubei/Special to The Aspen Times

It is difficult being on the other side of the globe in Aspen when her sovereign country fights for its survival, Schumacher said. Sometimes she wonders if people are clued into what’s happening in Eastern Europe.

“I’m just sad, and I just want this community to see it and be aware of what’s happening,” she said. “I know we’re in Aspen, and we’re a little bit removed from the rest of the world, but this is not just an issue of Ukraine and Russia. This is so much more.”

Yet, at the same time, Schumacher said that “Ukraine is fighting for the whole world alone, and it breaks my heart.”

Ukraine’s relationship with Russia turned in 2014 when President Vladimir Putin invaded the Crimea Peninsula and annexed it from Ukraine, she said. What’s happening now is “absolute nonsense,” she said, adding “friends and family are fleeing their houses” due to Putin’s hostility.

The 2014 illegal annexation compelled the Aspen Institute’s Aspen Strategy Group to release its “The Crisis With Russia” essay compilation the same year.

“The Kremlin continues to operate with fuzziness, and the most spectacular example of this is Putin’s attempt to erase the line between war and peace, which he has demonstrated with his aggression in Ukraine: Moscow continues to behave as if Russia has a normal diplomatic relationship with Kiev at the same time that it is waging a war on Ukrainian territory without admitting it!” wrote Lilia Shevtsova of the Moscow Carnegie Center in an essay titled “The World According to Putin.” “This fuzziness’ prevents Western consolidation and allows the Kremlin to keep various exit strategies open.”

Another Aspen resident from Ukraine, Lexy Lebovich, moved to the U.S. with his family in 1976. Lebovich, who was born in Ukraine in 1973 when it was part of the Soviet Union, hasn’t been as plugged into the news as Schumacher has been, but he’s keeping tabs.

“I care about the lives lost, but it didn’t feel personal to me until I thought to myself last night, had we not left where I was born right now, it would have been invaded,” he said. “This day and age where we think we’re so modern, but doesn’t future and progress mean no wars?”

Oligarchs in Aspen-Snowmass

As the world watches the Russian military’s attempt to take over Kyiv, hears about Putin’s nuclear rhetoric, and witnesses Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s video pleas for international help while he’s hunkered down in the capital city, there have been more calls for more sanctions against Russia’s oligarchs alleged to have enabled Putin over the years.

At least two Russia-born oligarchs, who also are close friends, have owned properties in Snowmass area since 2008, while the entrance to the synagogue on Main Street in Aspen identifies one of the billionaires as a major donor.

Neither the donor, Roman Abramovich, nor his friend and business partner Eugene Shvidler have been sanctioned in the wake of Russian’s invasion last week into neighboring Ukraine, yet the pressure to expand the sanctions is growing.

Rabbi Mendel Mintz, who leads the Chabad Jewish Community Center, was out of town Tuesday but when reached by email about Abramovich, he said there hasn’t been any talk of removing his name from the entrance area.

“You are the first to bring up his name and question to me,” Mintz’s email said, adding that “I have classmates/friends who are there (Ukraine) and serve as Rabbis. I call/check in every morning, so it’s a bit of a rollercoaster but it’s been a blessing to see what Aspen has done/doing for Ukraine and those suffering and hurting.”

Meanwhile in the House of Commons last Thursday, Labour Party leader Chris Bryant called on the British government to seize Abramovich’s assets in the UK, including the Chelsea Football Club, which he has owned since 2003, the BBC reported.

On Saturday, Abramovich, who is reportedly a dual Russian-Israeli citizen and has publicly denied any link to the Kremlin, announced he was handing the “stewardship and care” of the Chelsea club to its charitable foundation’s trustees. He remains the soccer team’s owner.

He also agreed participate in peace talks between the countries at the request of Ukraine, an item first reported by Jewish News.

While he hasn’t faced sanctions yet, Abramovich’s name is identified on a list released in February 2021 by an associate of Alexie Navalny, the jailed Russian dissident who blamed his poisoning in 2020 on Putin, BBC reported.

The list called for sanctions against “key enablers and beneficiaries of Russian kleptocracy, with significant ties/assets in the West.”

By seizing on Russia’s privatization of oil companies, Abramovich made a fortune that Forbes currently puts at $13 billion and enabled him to pay sums of $11.8 million and $36.75 million for secondary residences in Pitkin County, one of which has 11 bedrooms and 13 bathrooms, spans 12,859 square feet and sits on 200 acres of land on Ridge of Wildcat Drive in Snowmass, according to property records.

Abramovich also has a post office box located in Basalt, according to Pitkin County property tax data, which shows the county billing him $68,296 for his 1200 Ridge of Wildcat Drive property and $29,342 for his smaller, 5,492-square-foot home on 1.8 acres of land on 303 Aspen Way.

Not far from Abramovich’s residences in Snowmass is Eugene Shvidler’s 6,354-square-foot home on 202 East Fork Lane in the Two Creeks neighborhood. Public records identify Shvidler’s primary residence in London, and he has $29,511 in property taxes due to Pitkin County.

Forbes put his net worth at $1.4 billion and reported that his best friend Abramovich gave him a 70-foot yacht, Le Grand Bleu, as a gift.