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Thursday, Apr 19, 2018
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Steve Otto Columns

Otto: Familiar story unfolds in Ukraine

There was something familiar — something very stirring — in the videos of people making a stand in the Kiev square.

It was citizens standing against overwhelming odds, risking everything and knowing that even in victory the looming shadow of Vladimir Putin's empire was capable of anything.

It was all reminiscent of the second half of the 20th century as countries swallowed up by the Soviet empire began their struggles to regain some kind of independence.

I remember being a boy at a small American air base in Bavaria as the Hungarian people staged a revolt. Thousands of refugees streamed across the border, many setting up in a camp outside Munich and not too far from the base. It was the end of October and already turning cold and windy at the camp, where most of the refugees fled with nothing but the clothes they were wearing.

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One of the refugees who made it across was Andy Boyer. His father taught literature at the university in Budapest, and both Boyer and his father were on an arrest list. The young Boyer made his way across the fields and forests to the Austrian border and eventually to the United States, leaving behind any knowledge of what happened to his parents.

Boyer was an athlete and good enough to be on the Hungarian national track team. It was a couple of years later that he was entered into the Millrose Games in New York. There was another Hungarian track star in the races, and back in Budapest some friends of the family had secured a television set. That would be the first time the parents knew for sure their son had made it to America.

Boyer eventually would turn to medicine, go to Case Western and then the Mayo Clinic.

Many of you might remember that Boyer practiced in Tampa for years, becoming the team doctor for the Tampa Bay Rowdies and then for the New York Yankees here in Tampa.

He was recognized as one of the top practitioners in the area and treated thousands of us through the years.

Some of you might know of his years of volunteer work with the Judeo-Christian Clinic.

Fewer would know or care that he carried me for years as a tennis doubles partner.

I thought about what happened in Hungary as we watched the drama unfolding in the streets last week. The celebrations in Ukraine seemed the same as so long ago in Hungary, where citizens celebrated their victories in Budapest and elsewhere in the country.

The revolt was so complete the Soviets promised to negotiate peace. In mid-November, less than two weeks later, Soviet tanks and troops moved into Hungary. Thousands of Hungarians were killed and the country disappeared back behind the Iron Curtain until the collapse of the Soviet Union more than three decades later.

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Now the Soviet empire is long gone. Today's Russia is more worried about the example of the Ukraine catching on, maybe even into the homeland where there are plenty of stories suggesting the people are tired of the corruption and heavy boots on their lives.

But today's Russia is also a potential nightmare in the hands of desperate leaders. Right now the rest of the world watches and hopes we will not slip back into the darker days of the Cold War.

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