Expats in Kyiv on their plans to weather the storm
As Ukrainian and global media are trying to discern Russia’s motives and next moves, many Kyiv residents are faced with a dilemma: leave the city or stay put?
Judging by their social media posts, it seems that Ukrainians are staying calm, and aren’t abandoning their homes. But how does Kyiv’s foreign residents feel? NV has asked for their opinions on the current Russian crisis, and if they have plans in case the conflict heats up.
When browsing the comments on one of Kyiv expats’ pages on Facebook, one would get a sense of stoicism and resolve. NV received replies from a dozen foreigners living in Kyiv. Some comments echoed sentiments comparable to marriage vows: “till death do us part.” Folks seem to be resolved to defend the city, armed if need be, and aren’t particularly happy with Western leaders and media for ratcheting up invasion anxiety.
Hailing from Glasgow, Scotland, Euan MacDonald moved to Kyiv in 1994 to teach English, but has since made a career in journalism.
He lives with his family in Kyiv, and so is concerned about the current crisis. According to MacDonald, Russian troops present a very real security risk to Ukraine.
Euan’s initial plans to send his daughter to a more secure country were put on hold – the girl’s mother and grandmother refused.
He added that the capital is unlikely to get attacked directly.
“I don’t think Kyiv will be attacked, since it doesn’t make much military sense, and it would be difficult to achieve for Russia without a great strategic advantage,” MacDonald said.
“I’m prepared (for the city) to lose power: I have solar-powered lanterns and chargers, a water well nearby, and I can cook on a grill if I have to.”
Daily life in the capital remains vibrant as ever: bars are packed, stores are stocked. MacDonald said he’s glad to be going through this crisis surrounded by calm and steadfast Ukrainians.
Born in Nice, Kevin Bensimon lived in Paris before moving to Kyiv in July 2020 to be with his girlfriend. Although they have since broken up, Kevin decided to stay in Ukraine.
He enjoys Ukrainian summers and local culture and is excited by its “dynamic recent history”.
“About the current situation – it’s not the first time since I arrived (in Kyiv) that Russians put lot of soldiers near the (Ukraine’s) borders,” Bensimon said.
“I am a bit used to it; maybe the big difference is my country (France) talks about it.”
After coming back from Paris, Kevin said he feels that news about the Russia-Ukraine crisis is grimmer elsewhere in the world.
He plans to remain in Kyiv, unless “bombs start to come down” on Ukraine’s capital.
Bensimon remains skeptical about the prospects of a major war between Russia and Ukraine breaking out, and even less convinced that Kyiv itself is under a direct threat.
“I do not believe that situation could be bad here because there will be no war,” he said.
“And even if there was a war, I couldn’t believe that Russia will destroy the best economical asset of the country (Kyiv) – even Hitler did not destroy Paris.”
Kevin concluded by remarking that he noticed no changes in the city’s usual social life.
Lana Nicole Niland
Lana Nicole Niland moved to Kyiv in 2003, working as a dancer in the renowned Virsky National Ensemble of Ukraine, and eventually settled and started a family here.
Niland admits that while the recent escalation is “an extension of what has been going on in Ukraine for the last eight years,” it still affects everyone and worries her.
“I do not plan to leave Ukraine,” she said.
“This has been my home for the last 18+ years; I stand with the people here, Ukrainians and internationals alike.”
The expat community in Kyiv is a tight-kinit one, and would be a kernel of support if the situation deteriorates further, according to Niland.
She blames Vladimir Putin’s oversized ego for the crisis, and said that people in Kyiv are going about their lives with a bit of “stress” around them, contributing to the atmosphere of “calm before the storm.”
Alvis Lukša moved to Kyiv two years ago, in order to be with his wife.
Lukša studies security at the Leiden University in the Netherlands, and so initially remained entirely unconcerned, given how familiar he is with “politicians and media” stirring up anxieties.
However, he started to get worried once foreign embassies were calling foreign citizens in Ukraine, urging them to leave the country in 48 hours.
After sending his wife away somewhere safe, Lukša intends to remain in Kyiv, ready to defend his home.
“I am staying here as this is my home now and I am ready to protect it,” he said.
“I do have a possibility to evacuate even when things will get worse but I choose not to.”
The Ukrainian government could be doing a better job at explaining what the civilians should do in case of an invasion, according to Lukša.
Ultimately, he does not believe that the situation would deteriorate further, explaining the escalating tensions as “mind games” the world leaders engage in. Russians are already hurt by international sanctions and have made every democratic country view them as enemies. Putin’s reign would come to an end if things get worse for Russia – that’s why Lukša is convinced that the Kremlin won’t start a major war.
He said that people riding the Kyiv subway are visibly tense and stressed, and expressed hope that they will soon realize that the big war is but a phantom geopolitical trick.
Daniel Beckwith is an international video personal trainer who travels a lot and has “a particular fondness for Kyiv.” His most recent stay in Kyiv began on Jan. 22, and will last until early April. Beckwith is excited to see how rapidly the city grows between visits, and said he hopes to buy property here in near future.
He said that while Russian intimidation and saber-rattling is nothing new, he finds the way Ukraine is being “used” by the United States to score points against Russia to be “really upsetting.”
According to Beckwith, Washington displays a total disregard for how the residents of Kyiv feel, when they discuss the city’s possible destruction.
“I have no intention of ending my stay early,” he said.
“I have followed each day muddling through the news, working out what is real and what is political posturing, and my conclusion has been that Kyiv is as safe as it has always been.”
As Beckwith observes the capital remaining its usual welcoming self, he said that Ukraine should no longer be used as “a kick ball between the reds and the blues.”
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