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Russia Ukraine conflict

‘It breaks my heart’: Ukrainian expats share despair as Russian invasion rages on

Published: Updated:

As the war in Ukraine surpasses its 100th day, Dubai-based Ukrainian expats have told Al Arabiya English of their despair and devastation as the conflict rages on.

Having previously shared their ordeal at the start of the invasion, for many Ukrainians, the prolonged fighting in their home country has only heighted fears for the families they have left behind.

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Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 in what it calls a “special military operation,” that has caused mass displacement within the country and across the world.

“Almost all my family is in Western Ukraine now, except my sister,” said 33-year-old Ukrainian expat Olga, referring to her pregnant sister, who decided to leave the capital city Kyiv at the beginning of the Russian invasion.

“She was pregnant when the war started, and she had to leave Kyiv literally under the missiles attack. When she joined the rest of our family in the West [of Ukraine], she hoped it is going to be more or less safe there.

“But then in the middle of March, Russian troops started to gather at the Belarus border, and if they crossed it, they would have reached the city in one hour.

“She was very scared for the baby and took a decision to leave the country,” Olga explained, adding that her sister was now in Berlin, Germany.

“We have friends in Koln, Germany; they were supposed to help her with everything, so she went there by car. [But] maybe because of the stress, the contractions started earlier, and she had to stop in Berlin,” Olga said.

Her sister had to give birth to her child a little earlier than expected.

“[Berlin] is where my nephew Artem was born… still can't believe it happened to my family.”

‘I want to scream’

The body of a serviceman is coated in snow next to a destroyed Russian military multiple rocket launcher vehicle on the outskirts of Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Feb. 25, 2022. (File photo: AP)
The body of a serviceman is coated in snow next to a destroyed Russian military multiple rocket launcher vehicle on the outskirts of Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Feb. 25, 2022. (File photo: AP)

Olga expressed her frustration with the reduction of media coverage on the Ukraine war, her biggest concern being that the world would forget about the war.

“Lots of people think the war is over. We still have shellings everyday and people dying every minute… a few days ago, my colleague at work was trying to prove to me that everything was fine in Ukraine and I have nothing to complain about.

“That was the day my city, Kyiv, was hit by six missiles… sometimes I feel really hopeless. I want to scream: the war is not over. People are still being killed for nothing.”

Russia has denied targeting Ukrainian civilians in military action on multiple occasions, although the incursion has caused thousands of casualties and has left many Ukrainian towns destroyed.

The United Nations on Monday confirmed over 4,000 civilian deaths and 5,390 injuries in Ukraine since the beginning of the war, however, this number is expected to be much higher in reality.

People walk past a residential building heavily damaged during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine May 30, 2022. (File Photo: Reuters)
People walk past a residential building heavily damaged during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine May 30, 2022. (File Photo: Reuters)

Starting from scratch

Dubai-based expat and operations manager at a media firm, Anna, 31, said her parents had to leave their business behind and start their lives again from scratch.

“My family members try to start their lives from beginning,” she told Al Arabiya English. “It’s very hard, sometimes I feel that my parents lost their sense of the life, because they left their house and business. They always were busy and helpful, and now they just sit and wait to receive news to go back home.”

“Most of my family and friends are inside the Ukraine. They just relocated to other cities, where it is safer. They are scattered all over Ukraine. Men are not allowed to leave the country due to martial law, so women prefer to stay with them.”

Anna said that she was mostly concerned about more people and children dying.

Smoke rises after missile strikes, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Kyiv, Ukraine June 5, 2022. (Reuters)
Smoke rises after missile strikes, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Kyiv, Ukraine June 5, 2022. (Reuters)

“People left their houses, work, and unfulfilled plans for the future... Infrastructure, schools, churches, historical and cultural facilities have been destroyed,” she said. “I believe that the truth will prevail, and Ukraine will win. We will rebuild our country again and our economy will grow.”

Hopes fade as Russian aggression intensifies

Echoing Anna’s sentiment, Olga said, “I truly believe in my country, but every time I think about the price we pay every day for [a stable] future, it breaks my heart.”

Tombs of people who died after Russia invasion are seen in Bucha cemetery, outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, May 24, 2022. (File photo: AP)
Tombs of people who died after Russia invasion are seen in Bucha cemetery, outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, May 24, 2022. (File photo: AP)

“I had a hope it [the war] will end sooner, but I do understand whom we’re dealing with. Us, Ukrainians, we don't agree to give up on a single centimeter of our territory and our people this time,” Olga added.

“In 2014, when Russia occupied Crimea and the part of Donbas, the world didn't take actions. This led to the situation we have now, this gave Russia the idea they can do whatever they want without the consequences.”

“Now some European countries advise us to give up on the territories, occupied by Russia. For me, this is nonsense. The European leaders have forgotten the history… the policy of appeasing an aggressor led to World War II,” said Olga.

Dubai-based Ukrainian expat, Maria, 32, also shared some of her concerns with Al Arabiya English.

The 32-year-old is from the Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, which has witnessed relentless shelling from Russia. Ukrainian forces pushed the Russians away from the city last month and it has been estimated that around 606 civilians were killed there and 600,000 evacuated.

A young man evacuated from Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol stands surounded by service members of pro-Russian troops and members of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) at a temporary accommodation centre in the village of Bezimenne, during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the Donetsk Region, Ukraine May 6, 2022. (File photo: Reuters)
A young man evacuated from Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol stands surounded by service members of pro-Russian troops and members of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) at a temporary accommodation centre in the village of Bezimenne, during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the Donetsk Region, Ukraine May 6, 2022. (File photo: Reuters)

“The more time this war will take, the more losses we will have. My main concern is the ability of Russian federation to pay reparations in future. But even so, they will not bring our [dead] soldiers and civilian people back to life, which is the saddest part,” she said.

The 32-year-old, whose family evacuated to Bordeuax in France, said that she expected the war to last this long, “due to the Russian president’s ambitions.”

“The war will finish anyway. And I truly believe we will be able to be a part of European [Union] family.”

Read more:

Food security was ‘deteriorating’ before Ukraine war, but has worsened since: Expert

Amnesty says Russia guilty of war crimes in Kharkiv shelling

‘I feel empty, scared’: Dubai-based Ukrainian expats share their ordeal amid invasion

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