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UKRAINE

‘I fear my family will be killed’: Ukrainians across Europe react to Russia’s invasion

As the news travelled around the world on Thursday that Russia had invaded Ukraine, many Ukrainians in Europe have told The Local of their fears for their family and country, as well as their frustration at not being able to help.

Brandenburger Tor Ukrainian Flag
Ukrainian citizens in Europe express their fears about the war in Ukraine. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christophe Gateau

In the early hours of Thursday morning Russia invaded Ukraine after weeks of high tension with western leaders and years of military action in the east of the country.

As the announcements filtered through news outlets, Ukrainians living in countries across Europe woke up to a reality they had long been dreading.

In a survey of The Local’s Ukrainian readers, the most common feeling expressed was the utter shock that their country had been invaded, followed by deep and real fears that they may never see their friends and family again.

Others spoke about the impact on their identity as a Ukrainian, the frustration of not being able to help and fears of not being able to go back home.

‘It makes me feel unsafe and worried’

“I have nowhere to go back to,” said Karina Karnaukh, 32 year-old Senior Business Development Manager living in Stockholm but originally from Dnipro. “I’ll most likely lose my job and thus will have to ask for refugee status in EU.

“This is a tragedy happening in the middle of Europe.

“I fear for the lives of my parents and my little sisters. What can happen? No one knows.” 

Dmytro, a 35-year-old Software Engineer living in Copenhagen but originally from the city of Kharkiv, said: “I have family members and friends living in Kharkiv and other Ukrainian cities. They have been okay so far, but I am worried about their well-being. I am in a safe and privileged position compared to them, but I can do very little to help.”

Another Copenhagen-based Ukrainian resident named Andrii, originally from Transcarpathia in Western Ukraine said: “My parents are there, my brother is in Kyiv, my friends and other family members are there. I feel continuous stress and helplessness. I won’t be able to go back if Russia occupies beloved Ukraine.”

A 37-year-old Software Engineer in Berlin expressed fears for their family, including a disabled father, and said: “I need to figure out how I can help them to flee the country.”

Another anonymous respondent said: “I just hope my sister and mother can join me in Sweden”.

Irena, 24, who works as a kindergarten teacher in Aarhus, Denmark, but is originally from the Odessa region said she “cannot stop crying” and added her biggest fear is that her family will be killed.

Viktoria, an IT Consultant in Munich, Germany, said: “It makes me feel unsafe and worried because a lot of my friends and relatives live in Kyiv. I feel like I have gone back in time and now it is June 1941. It is a horrible and surreal feeling.”

The mention of June 1941 refers to the day when Germany attacked Ukraine as World War II raged. Later that year, the country was divided between two German administrative units.

Viktoria, from Kyiv added: “My fear is if the US and the EU don’t help and block the Russian aggression, the EU will also become an unstable place where there is no democracy but only military power rules the world.” 

The Ukrainian diaspora in Europe

According to Reuters, there are 260,000 Ukrainians living in the Czech Republic, and tens of thousands in both Slovakia, Poland and Hungary. It is estimated there are around 40,000 Ukrainian nationals in France whilst Germany and Spain are home to over 100,000 Ukrainian nationals. Italy numbers over 240,000. Sweden (estimated 12,800), Austria (12,600) Switzerland (6,500) Denmark (8,000) and Norway (7,200) are also home to thousands of Ukrainians.

Andre, 37, a Software Engineer who lives in Mannheim, Germany, but is originally from the Ukrainian city of Cherkasy said: “The impact is mostly psychological. We don’t have any close relatives in Ukraine, but we planned to go home as usual near Easter. I need to work, but it’s extremely complicated now since I keep scrolling the news feed.”

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How Italy could be impacted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Most readers told The Local they are receiving support from friends and colleagues in their country of residence. However, many expressed dismay at the level of support on an international level and from regional authorities.

When asked about his biggest fear, an investment analyst from Zurich who asked not to be named, said: “Ukraine will be bombed and cultural heritage will be destroyed. People will be killed. I worry for my immediate family living there now.”

Julia, 32, a Quality Assurance Engineer in Stockholm, said her biggest fear is: “Occupation of Ukraine with other countries only sending their thoughts and prayers or just raising their concerns.”

Julia also expressed her disbelief that her country was at war with Russia and added that her employer has offered her additional days off from work.

Olha, a 38-year-old IT specialist in Stockholm, said about the war: “It will impact the lives of all European people, not only Ukrainians.”

Member comments

  1. Lighting up Brandenburg Gate is about as helpful as soccer players taking the knee. Germany should worry less about lights and more about implementing actual meaningful sanctions. Of course that would mean hard times for Europe because they get oil from Russia, but it would be a sanction that might actually have an effect on Putin. Sadly we live in an age where virtue signaling, which doesn’t really cost anybody anything, has replaced actual sacrifice in the interest of what is good and right.

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UKRAINE

German hospital reunites Ukrainian patients and medics

The University Hospital Schleswig-Holstein (UKSH) in northern Germany has so far cared for around 500 Ukrainian patients at its sites, as well as accommodating 61 nursing staff from Ukraine.

German hospital reunites Ukrainian patients and medics

Four Ukrainian flags are flapping in the cold northern wind outside the university hospital (UKSH) in Luebeck on Germany’s Baltic coast.

Since the beginning of the Russian invasion, Ukrainian nurses and doctors at this ultra-modern facility have been treating patients from their home country.

Originally from Chernivtsi, close to Ukraine’s border with Romania, Oleksandra Shaniotailo, 31, was taken on as a nurse two months ago.

“I am waiting for my nursing degree to be recognised,” she tells AFP in her newly acquired German.

“In Ukraine, I worked for 11 years in a hospital,” says the young woman, who is waiting to meet the Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.

READ ALSO: Reader question: How is Germany supporting refugees from Ukraine?

Young refugees

On the fringes of a meeting of G7 foreign ministers a few dozen kilometres away from Luebeck, Ukraine’s top diplomat has come to visit the hospital, where 61 young refugees have been taken on as nursing staff.

Between selfies with the guest of honour, the new team members share their patriotic support with Kuleba.

“I am working in outpatient care for five months before starting a four-month course for my degree to be recognised,” says Anastasiia Demicheva, 20, from the same town in Bukovina.

The fragile young woman, whose make-up barely hides her pale complexion, is serving meals to patients, bathing them or helping them walk up and down the corridors of the vast hospital, which employs some 2,000 medics between Luebeck and the more northern city of Kiel.

In parallel, Anastasiia is taking German courses to be able to speak fluently with her patients.

The Ukrainian foreign minister also visits the bedsides of the Ukrainian patients who have been transferred to the hospital.

“We have cancer patients whose chemotherapy has been interrupted” by the war, UKSH president, Jens Scholz, 63, tells AFP. Among them is Oleg Kovalenko, whose cancer was diagnosed in Kyiv. With a sallow face and wearing his yellow hospital gown, he tells the visiting minister how grateful he is to be receiving treatment in Germany.

‘Thank you’

“It’s an enormous privilege,” he says in Ukrainian, before saying “danke” (“thank you”) in German. The hospital is also hosting Ukrainian children who need major surgery or suffer from cardiac problems.

“We’ve taken on nearly 500 Ukrainian patients” since the end of February, says Scholz.

When war came to Ukraine, the hospital sent equipment and medicine to hospitals in Lviv, Zhytomyr and Ivano-Frankivsk. More than three million euros ($3.1 million) of aid have been, while a fifth support package of respiratory equipment, beds and operating equipment is ready to be sent to Ukraine on May 19th.

Behind the Ukraine partnership, first established in 2014, are a man and wife from the country who work at the hospital, employed as a surgeon and a biologist, respectively.

READ ALSO: ‘Could have been us’: Why British-German couple took in Ukrainian refugees

“I’ve been here for 12 years and have become the head of transplants” at the hospital, Hryhoriy Lapshyn, 40, tells AFP. From Germany “I can better help people in Ukraine than I could if I had stayed,” he says.

The young Ukrainians who have just arrived will become nurses. “Ukraine will benefit, too,” he says.

The pair do not hide the pain they feel seeing the horrors which have descended on their country, dismissing critics who say they should be working with war-wounded in Ukraine.

“My heart bleeds,” says Olha Lapshyna, her voice trembling. “I ask myself often what I am doing here. Why do I have the privilege of being here while other women stayed in Ukraine?”

“Sometimes there are no more emotions, just things to do,” her husband adds, saying he has been caught in a whirlwind since the start of the war. “You have to help people. You get calls non-stop.”

On his swift tour through the hospital, the Ukrainian Foreign Minister pays homage to their work. “War is not only soldiers who are fighting,” Kuleba says. “I’m very touched that you found the role that you can play” in this war, he says.

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