Friday, September 30, 2022

‘We’re used to living next to Russia’: While foreign embassies evacuate, life in Kyiv carries on

Foreign embassies in Ukraine have been hurriedly withdrawing their staff in recent days, amid warnings that further Russian invasion may be increasingly imminent.

The US, UK and Australia were among a number of governments urging their citizens to evacuate immediately after Washington stepped up its warnings on Friday.

While the news caused alarm among foreigners, life in Kyiv carried on as usual.

Inside a trendy coffee shop, the scene was lively but unremarkable. Cappuccino orders flowed in while a small group of well-dressed students took a smoke break outside in an open courtyard.

“Everything remains unclear, so everything is calm,” bar manager Nickolay Venediktov said.

Valerie Tchaikovskaya, a 19-year-old student, wasn’t worried either.

“It feels like provocation,” she said.

“We’re used to living next to Russia.”

Two young women wearing winter coats and hats sit on chairs outside a coffee shop, smoking.
Valerie Tchaikovskaya and Lucy Proskurko at Kashtan coffee bar.,ABC News: Natalie Vikhrov,

Tensions escalate at Russian border

Russia has massed more than 120,000 troops along its borders with Ukraine, but tensions heightened even further last week after Russia started large-scale military drills in neighboring Belarus and sent ships to the Black Sea for “naval exercises”.

Moscow says it has no plans to attack. But Ukrainians are wary of promises made by Russia.

The general mood in Kyiv remains calm, but local woman Tatiana Marchenko says her anxiety has been growing.

“We’re just watching the news and waiting for what happens next and hoping for the best,” she said.

Two women wearing winter coats, hoods and gloves stand in a car park covered in snow.  They are talking to each other
Tatiana Marchenko (left) and Anastasia Lifanova are hoping for the best.,ABC News: Natalie Vikhrov,

Others have been living with a deep-seated anxiety for eight years now.

“I’m from Donetsk and my parents remain there, so it’s strange for me that people are only now taking off their rose-coloured glasses and understanding that the war has been going on for eight years,” said Ilmira, who wanted to use only her first name.

“I can’t be any more of an anxious person than I am now, so for me nothing has changed.”

Ukrainians say they have ‘the fighting spirit’

A crowd of people march behind a banner saying WILL REST.  Many carry red and white flags and blue and yellow flags
Thousands of Ukrainians attended a rally in central Kyiv on Saturday afternoon., Associated Press: Efrem Lukatsky,

On Saturday afternoon, thousands marched the streets in a show of resilience and unity against Russian aggression.

“We have a very healthy dose of patriotism, it’s our culture, it’s our language and we did have to struggle a lot to get here,” said Olga Vasylevska, who attended the march with her friends and sister.

“I brought my little sister here … to show her how many people are ready to unite and fight for what they believe in.

“We are concerned but we also have the fighting spirit.”

A young woman stands in front of a snowy garden bed, hands in her coat pockets, mask pulled down under her chin
Olga Vasylevska brought her younger sister to the march.,ABC News: Natalie Vikhrov,

Among those marching were Erfan Kudusov and Marlen Kataky, Crimean Tatars who were forced to leave their homes after Russia occupied the Crimean peninsula in 2014.

“I left out of concerns for my children, for my family, because this imperial ideology could have taken away my children. Physically, they would have been with me but mentally Russia pressures with its propaganda,” Erfan Kudusov said.

He said he was ready to fight further Russian aggression.

A man wearing a woollen hat stands in a crowd in front of people with blue and yellow flags
Erfan Kudusov, a Crimean Tatar, was forced to flee his homeland when Russia annexed the region in 2014.,ABC News: Natalie Vikhrov,

A column of red and white — colors that became symbolic of anti-government protests in Belarus — marched alongside the sea of ​​patriotic signs and Ukrainian flags.

“We came here to support our Ukrainian brothers,” Alex Malinouski said.

The 39-year-old said he was recently forced to flee the regime of Alexander Lukashenko with his family.

“We understand that Ukraine is in danger. We are also in danger. Our country is already occupied by Russian troops because they are conducting exercises … we worry about whether the troops will leave our territory.”

Expats make exit plans while others stay put

Amid fears of further Russian invasion, Australia announced on Sunday it would be evacuating its embassy in Kyiv and shifting operations to the western city of Lviv, near the Polish border.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison urged Australians to leave Ukraine immediately, warning the situation was reaching “a very dangerous stage”.

But some, like Nate Robert from Perth, are planning to stay put.

“My feeling is that it is premature,” he told the ABC.

“There is nothing actually happening out of the ordinary, especially in Kyiv.

“Ukraine in general has been in a state of conflict for quite a few years now in the east.”

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Nation World News Desk
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