When Russian forces invaded Oksana Kampov’s native Ukraine on Feb. 24, the Virgin Islands resident was horrified. Since then, the situation in much of her home country has rapidly deteriorated into a dangerous war zone.
“It’s very hard to watch it from afar and watch this horrendous scene of cities being destroyed and life lost, children being killed, and people forced to flee their homes, and many more being trapped in basements without basic supplies of water, electricity and food,” said Ms. Kampov, a nutritionist who has lived in the VI since August. “It’s really hard to comprehend that it’s happening.”
Ms. Kampov, one of at least four Ukrainians living in the VI, has done her best to stay in touch with family members as the war has escalated in recent weeks.
Currently, she said, her parents, brother and other family are in western Ukraine — what she called the safer part of the country bordering Slovakia and Hungary.
Kyiv native Yuliya Gulevych, who has lived in the VI for eight years, told a similar story.
“They just kill civilians,” said Ms. Gulevych, a business owner and the wife of VI lawyer Martin Kenney. “They just shoot them non-stop and they don’t give people green corridors. They don’t let civilians get out of the cities. So right now, some of the people are staying in a basement for like 13 days already. It’s a humanitarian problem because they don’t get access to food and water, so they are basically dying in basements in some of these areas.”
When Russian forces attacked Ukraine on Feb. 24, six members of Ms. Gulevych’s immediate family left Kyiv.
“The first day there was huge traffic and panic,” she said. “People were trying to leave the city. They were only able in 12 hours to drive 150 kilometres away, which is almost nothing.”
Her family’s three-day trek took them to the Polish border, where they waited 20 hours in their car only to turn back around, she added.
“Unfortunately, because of martial law, men ages 18 to 60 years old are not allowed to leave the country right now,” she said. “They had to turn back around because my brother wasn’t allowed to cross the border and the family decided not to leave him alone. So they stayed in Ukraine.”
Her family members — including her mother, a twin brother, his wife and her mother, and his two young children — are staying in western Ukraine close to the Polish border with a family that was kind enough to take them in. But other family members including her aunt and cousins are still in Kyiv or near the capital city.
While she hopes that they will be able to leave the country safely, she thinks it’s highly unlikely.
“I don’t know what is next,” she said.“We all don’t know what will be next. Right now they are safe, but for how long? It’s just a matter of time when they will take all eastern parts of Ukraine.”
While Ukraine continues to put up a fight against Russia — a country that eclipses Ukraine in size and resources — international support has mostly come in the form of economic sanctions against Russia and resources supplied to Ukraine. More needs to be done, Ms. Gulevych said.
“The solution is to move faster to completely shut down Russia economically,” she said. “So the sanctions that were made now, the biggest solution would be to stop buying Russian oil and gas. It’s just moving so slow. It might take months to stop buying oil and gas from Russia, but what is going to happen in the next months in Ukraine? It will be hundreds of thousands of people that will be destroyed completely.”
She noted that some 1.5 million people have already fled Ukraine, and many more are still trying to leave.
“Nobody wants to be a refugee,” she said. “People want to go back home.”
Ms. Gulevych urged the VI to completely shut off business with Russia.
“I know there are over 500,000 companies registered in the [VI],” she said. “They can make a big influence on what is going on in Ukraine by not letting any Russian companies open here. If that would happen, that would be a great support from the [VI].”
Ms. Kampov became very emotional while describing the situation that her family is going through in the country. Though she left Ukraine 20 years ago and lives here now, she said her whole family is in the war-torn country.
“It’s been a shock,” she said. “It’s been two weeks, but it’s still unimaginable that it’s happening there.”
While Ms. Kampov said she feels powerless being so far away, she has been working with others to raise funds. She has also kept in touch with her family throughout the crisis.
“We daily have these conversations that if the situation changes they have to leave,” she said. “I have two nephews whose parents won’t be able to leave because of martial law. Their mom is a medic and their dad is 58 years old. They need to have parents to cross the border.”
Crossing the border is not simple either, she said. Millions are desperately trying to flee the country toward safety.
Thankfully, she added, there are many people in neighbouring countries willing to lend a hand.
“I have lots of friends and family in Europe. They have constantly been inquiring and suggesting that if they had to cross the border they have plenty of people to welcome them,” she said.
Both Ms. Kampov and Ms. Gulevych said that Ukraine is a peaceful country where many different people live in harmony.
“Just to see that it’s being at- tacked by a neighbouring country that we’ve had historic relations with, who is considered our brother, it’s very hard to comprehend,” Ms. Kampov said.
She added that she believes Ukraine will continue to fight and that there is “no end in sight for this.”
“Ukraine has been great in standing up to [Russia] but it’s a small country with small re- serves of weapons. As great a support as it’s been with other nations, it’s not enough,” she said. “There is a lot of talk, and for Ukrainians to stand their ground they need military support. Everybody is so afraid that it’s going to start a Third World War, but as far as we’re concerned it has started.”
Oleg Boyko, another Ukrainian living in the VI, said many of his extended family members and his mother are still in Ukraine. Mr. Boyko, an accountant who has lived in the territory for about two years, said that the past few days have been filled with anxiety, worry, stress, desperation and feelings of helplessness.
“The amount of messages and calls I’ve received in the past two weeks was really overwhelming and something that really kept me going,” he said.
Mr. Boyko believes that Russia will continue to invade as much of Europe as it can, and will try to attack Poland after its attacks on Ukraine.
“Ukraine is basically fighting for the world,” he said.
All three Ukrainians who spoke to the Beacon this week said the war should have been prevented a long time ago, and that the door to attack other countries opened for Russia when it invaded and annexed Crimea in 2014.
Though Russian forces were gathering for months on the Ukrainian border, a lax international response to its illegal actions in Crimea made it possible for Russia to attack Ukraine, Mr. Boyko said.
“The world kind of accepted it in 2014. That was a big mistake,” he said. “Now we’re receiving the consequences of this. We do hope that Ukraine will keep fighting and that the world will keep supporting.”
Mr. Boyko echoed his fellow Ukrainians’ statements in saying that the country needs humanitarian and military assistance.
“We do need weapons. Ukraine armies struggle to keep Russian rockets and planes away,” he said. “We keep stressing that and the West keeps repeating, ‘We can’t do that. We can’t confront Russia.’ But if Ukraine falls, next will be Baltic countries. When are you going to step in?”
Ukrainians living in the VI, who have been working to raise funds to aid their country, were invited to the Governor’s House last Thursday by Governor John Rankin. The office also raised the Ukrainian flag early last week while staff members wore blue and yellow to show support to the country.
Meanwhile, Premier Andrew Fahie has promised to cooperate with foreign agencies requesting documents on any companies as part of international sanctions against Russia. He said that the government will aim to turn over information within an hour after requests are made.