When Artur Samarin arrived at a small-town Pennsylvania high school, he worked hard to fit in. And he did it well. So well that he pulled off one of the boldest hoaxes of our time.
Before putting the plot into motion, before the five-year masquerade, before the honors and the scholarships and the arrests and the deportation, before any of that, he rode into town on a Greyhound bus on a sleepy spring afternoon, marveling at how smooth the roads were all along the way. He’d come a great distance—5,000 miles from Nova Kakhovka to Harrisburg. But it was a distance he’d collapsed in his mind time and again from his boyhood bedroom in the south of Ukraine, where he’d dreamed of the limitless opportunities he figured he could find only in the U.S. of A.
In America, Artur Samarin was sure, he could change his life forever—but he only had three months to pull it off. As a sophomore at his local university in Ukraine, he had interviewed for a slot in an American exchange program that permitted foreign university students to work summer service jobs in the U.S. Artur had always been an extraordinary student in un-extraordinary circumstances. And though his English was thin, he parroted his way through the application process and landed a coveted post manning the fryer at a Red Robin in South Central Pennsylvania for a few months.
The America Artur discovered after that initial buzzed-up ride into Harrisburg had its perks: clean buses, foliage in full bloom, delicious flame-broiled burgers. But it wasn’t all that he’d hoped—at least not right away. It was expensive, more expensive than he’d expected. He was making $9.50 an hour, good money for home but less good in Harrisburg. The work was grinding. And it took a fair amount of time each day to get to the restaurant, over in the shadow of the Lightning Racer roller coaster at Hersheypark.
But in his rare slivers of free time, he would remind himself that this was the place where he might be able to pivot his fate for good.