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Utah County Attorney David Leavitt makes quick exit out of Ukraine, but is now stuck in Amsterdam with COVID-19

David Leavitt, who taught law in Ukraine for more than a decade, went to Kyiv to collect documents from his apartment as news of a possible Russian invasion loomed.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah County District Attorney David Leavitt speaks during a news conference at Salt Lake County District Attorney's building on Monday, March 1, 2021. Leavitt tested positive for COVID-19 in Amsterdam on Jan. 26, as he was returning from a trip to the Ukraine he took to collect personal items amid fear that the Russian government could invade the country.

When Utah County Attorney David Leavitt decided to go to Ukraine earlier this week to collect documents from his Kyiv apartment, he’d planned for several contingencies in case the city was invaded by the Russian military.

He had extra cash in case the internet went down and the ATMs didn’t work. He’d also rented a car, deciding it safest to not rely on public transportation in case the trains stopped running.

But something unexpected happened that halted what was supposed to be a quick trip to Ukraine to gather a few personal items: Leavitt is stuck in Amsterdam after he tested positive for COVID-19.

It’s the second time Leavitt has been ill with the coronavirus.

Leavitt, who taught in Ukraine with the American Bar Association for more than a decade, has owned an apartment in Kyiv for several years. With news of a threat of a Russian invasion, Leavitt said in an interview on Wednesday that he’d booked the hasty trip to Ukraine to get paperwork proving ownership of his apartment and to collect some personal effects.

“We flew from Salt Lake to Amsterdam and Amsterdam to Kiev,” he said Wednesday, “and spent 24 hours there and got things taken care of then visited with some close friends of ours.”

The capital city felt different than previous visits, Leavitt said of landing in Kyiv. He added that Ukrainian friends seemed nervous.

“It felt like there was a tension,” he said. “A feeling of foreboding. It’s right at the front of everyone’s minds. It’s a sad feeling.”

“There has been so much troop movement recently,” he said. “[Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s tanks have a far easier time going over frozen ground than muddy ground. That’s not something we think of as Americans.”

The county attorney said he decided to go to Ukraine after seeing news that the American Embassy was evacuating families and personnel and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had moved its missionaries out of the country. He expedited a previously planned trip because he felt he had a window of time where he could go with his sons to collect what they needed from the Kyiv apartment.

The U.S. Embassy issued an alert on Wednesday urging Americans to leave Ukraine as soon as possible, saying “the security situation in Ukraine continues to be unpredictable due to the increased threat of Russian military action.” It further noted the situation could “deteriorate with little notice.”

Leavitt first left Utah on Sunday, flew back out of Ukraine on Tuesday and received a positive COVID-19 test result early Wednesday while in Amsterdam en route back to Salt Lake City. He’s now quarantining in a hotel room near the airport in Amsterdam, but says he’s not sure how long he will be required to stay there.

“Thankfully they have a bathrobe,” he said Wednesday. “Because I literally went with the clothes on my back. And so now my clothes are drip-drying from my hotel room sink.”

During his years teaching in Ukraine, Leavitt said he instructed law students about the principles of American jury trials. The county attorney said it was the Ukrainian law students’ confusion over how plea deals could work in the United States that made him realize the shortcomings of the criminal justice system. He is now outspoken about wanting reform.

“So much of what I do in the United States, as the Utah County Attorney, is directly tied to years in the Ukraine,” he said. “I’m sad about it, because I not only love the Ukranian people, I have worked hard to help the legal system.”

Correction, Jan. 26, 2022, 6 p.m.: This story has been updated to clarify the timeline of when Leavitt tested positive for COVID-19 in Amsterdam.

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