Ukrainian refugee honored for heroic water rescue in Freeport

A fearless act of heroism by a stranger


Ukrainian refugee Volodymyr Zubko was honored on Oct 12 in Freeport Village Hall for rescuing a driver whose car plunged into the water just north of Cow Meadow Preserve, not far from the Nautical Mile, on Sept 19.

“I would like to thank our newest resident, Volodymyr, who risked his own life to save a life,” Mayor Robert Kennedy said. “Somebody who just ran out, took off his clothes, jumped into the water and saved an individual. The combination of Volodymyr, our Police Department and Fire Department saved somebody’s life, and I’m very happy about it.”

Zubko, a 37-year-old software engineer from Kharkiv, Ukraine, had been in the United States for just four days when he heard a crash, saw a submerged vehicle and dived into 18-foot-deep water to save its unconscious driver. Local authorities and police joined in the rescue efforts, and brought the man to safety.

The incident occurred at Jeffstar Marina, on a narrow waterway between the east end of Jefferson Street and the south end of Gordon Place, at around 9:15 a.m. The driver, headed through the marina at high speed, apparently lost control of his vehicle and went airborne over a boat, ultimately ending up submerged in the water, according to village Police Chief Michael Smith.

Zubko, who was spending the morning on his computer and heard the crash, saw the vehicle in the water, quickly discerned that its driver was in the perilous situation and dived in.

“I was using my PC when I suddenly heard a noise from outside,” Zubko told the Herald. “I looked out of the window facing the marina and noticed that a car was already submerged in the water. It was barely a meter from the edge and completely underwater. Without hesitation, I rushed to see what was happening. All of this happened very quickly, within seconds. After I spotted legs beneath the water, I knew I had to take action. I need to do something. So I jumped into the water and swam to help him.”

Moments later, Nassau County and Freeport police officers arrived on the scene, and aided in the rescue effort. The man was brought to the and taken to a hospital, where he was reported to be in stable condition. An investigation into the circumstances surrounding the crash was continuing as the Herald went to press.

Zubko had recently fled the turmoil in his home country. He had planned to stay in the U.S. for only a month or so, but now that the Freeport community and its leaders have honored him as a hero, he is looking for work and is even considering making the village his new home.

Kennedy has offered his support, reaching out to State Sen. Kevin Thomas in an effort to expedite Zubko’s working papers.

“Usually … most civilians stand by and wait for law enforcement to show up or first responders to show up,” Hempstead Town Councilman Chris Carini, a former police officer, said, expressing his admiration for Zubko’s quick thinking. “This individual, without hesitation, without regard for his own safety, jumped in immediately and basically saved this person’s life. So it’s very rare when you see a civilian actually take action when there’s an emergency going on. And what he did is truly amazing, and he’s a true American hero.”

“I couldn’t help but think it was karma that I was by the water and then this incident happened in the water,” Zubko said. “When I shared the story with my friends, they told me that I was in the right place at the right time, something like karma.”