Ukrainians in the UAE fear for families as threat of Russian invasion grows

Some residents' families have been stocking up on food and fuel in case war breaks out

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As fears grow that Russian troops will invade Ukraine, Ukrainian residents in the UAE say they are preparing for the worst.

Olena Zintchenko said her family in Kiev have been putting money aside and are buying non-perishable food, just in case.

Ms Zintchenko, 34, speaks to her parents by daily video calls. They say the mood in their neighbourhood is sobering, but they are trying to get on with life as normal.

“All my family is in Kiev and we are in touch every day,” said Ms Zintchenko, a business owner in Dubai.

My family have a plan in place if a full-scale invasion occurs. They keep bags packed with basic stuff, documents, cash and will be able to leave Kharkiv by car
Olena Kalych, a resident in Abu Dhabi

“The mood, obviously, is nervous. But they are trying to live their lives while at the same time preparing for the worst scenario. They have refused to leave home.

“They have full [fuel] tanks, shelter in our basement and plenty of food stored.”

Eight years ago, Ms Zintchenko regularly heard stories of people dying on the war front in Donbas, a region south-east of Ukraine held by pro-Russian separatists.

Now, she fears the same will happen if Russian troops enter her country.

“[This] may lead to a big war in the middle of Europe in the 21st century, which is incredibly horrifying,” she said.

“I still believe in the power of diplomacy, but before World War Two diplomacy was also strong, and unfortunately, it did not prevent the war.”

Olena Kalych, a resident in Abu Dhabi, comes from Kharkiv, a city that borders the Donbas region where there are two breakaway pro-Russian states.

She said being abroad at this critical time makes her extremely worried, but also proud of how the Ukrainian people are handling the threat.

“My family still lives in Kharkiv and as of now they are living life as normal, or as normal as you can in the circumstances,” she said.

“However, they do have a plan in place if a full-scale invasion occurs. They keep bags packed with basic stuff, documents, cash and will be able to leave Kharkiv by car.

“Once my father and brother ensure that the other family members are safe in the west of Ukraine, they intend to return to Kharkiv and join the military forces, as they are already trained and skilled respectively.”

Over the past several months, Russia has amassed an estimated 100,000 troops along its border with Ukraine.

Ukraine and Russian separatists accuse each other of shelling attacks

Ukraine and Russian separatists accuse each other of shelling attacks

The US has responded by sending several thousand troops to two of Ukraine’s neighbouring countries, Poland and Romania.

High-level talks between delegations from Ukraine, Russia, Europe and the US have failed to ease tensions, and while Moscow says it has no plans to invade, Washington and its allies insist that is likely to happen.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has issued security demands to the US before he draws his military forces back, including a ban on Ukraine joining Nato and an agreement that Nato will remove troops and weapons across much of Eastern Europe.

Yevheniy Semenov, who has lived in the UAE for eight years, said almost all his family is currently located in Chernivtsi, a city in western Ukraine.

“According to [my family] the mood is very calm in the city. At the same time, Ukrainians are getting ready for in case war resumes,” Mr Semenov, 28, said.

“A lot of people are looking for firearm ownership permits. My mum, who works in school, told me they’re exercising emergency evacuations for their pupils, too.

“My family has prepared their emergency suitcases but they’re not planning to leave the country.”

While being far away from his family is worrying, Mr Semenov said he takes some solace knowing that Ukrainian diplomats, their western allies and Ukrainian diaspora around the world are doing their best to avoid any escalation.

“During the past eight years, many cases of Russian units’ presence were detected in Ukraine,” he said.

“The potential escalation may become just a renewal of invasion. As of now, [the threat] looks more like a way of trying to make the people in Ukraine and around the world panic.”

Stephen Maclaren, a British insurance broker in Dubai, said he is concerned about his wife and son, who both have Ukrainian passports and are living in Russia.

“My wife’s mother lives in Ukraine and she is due to visit her next month, while my son comes to Dubai to stay with me for a visit,” he said.

“It is a big worry for us what is happening there.

“If conflict does escalate, the concern is my son may have difficulty getting back into Russia after visiting me in Dubai.

“They are both trying to get permanent residency status in Russia but it takes time. If there is a war on, that could become even more challenging so it could be a huge issue for them.”

Being away from family is stressful at the best of times, but Mr Maclaren said if tensions continue to escalate it will become more difficult.

With inputs from Nick Webster

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Updated: February 22, 2022, 3:47 AM