‘We are here alone’: Vancouverite in Ukraine recalls chaos of escape from Kyiv

Click to play video: 'Vancouver resident’s ordeal in Ukraine'
Vancouver resident’s ordeal in Ukraine
A Vancouverite in Ukraine talks to Global News of his ordeal escaping the fighting in his homeland. Emad Agahi reports – Feb 27, 2022

A Vancouverite living in Ukraine is encouraging Canadians to donate to charities supporting humanitarian relief in the Eastern European country under siege by Russia.

Illya Lebedyntsev fled the capital Kyiv last week with his girlfriend, seeking safety from air strikes. As Ukrainians continue to pick up arms to defend their country’s independence, he’s asking for support.

“Anything really helps because we are here alone and Russia is [so many] times bigger than us with lots more people,” he told Global News.
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“But what we have, that they don’t, is that bravery to fight till the last drop of blood because there is no other option.”

A baby looks out the window of a car during traffic while escaping the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, during the Russian invasion launched Thurs. Feb. 24, 2022. Illya Swan/

Read more: B.C. mayor with Ukrainian heritage ‘heartbroken’ by conflict as vigil gets underway

Lebedyntsev was born in a city south of Kyiv, but moved to Vancouver when he was 18 to study at Langara College. He’s employed in Canada and awaiting citizenship, but has been working remotely in Ukraine during the pandemic to spend time with his family.

Lebedyntsev evacuated Kyiv with his partner by road.

As the conflict escalated over the weekend, he said thousands of others fled at the same time, turning what would normally be an hour-long trip out of the city into a nine-hour nightmare, with sirens warning of air raids.

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“I could see the confusion — it starts ringing and people are like, ‘What do I do? Do I leave the car here?'” he recalled. “Everyone ran out and ran towards whatever they saw — underground metros or underground crossings for busy streets, and stayed there until the siren went out.”

Ukrainians take shelter in an underground street crossing during an air strike warning while fleeing the capital, Kyiv. Illya Swan/

As they drove, Lebedyntsev said he saw volunteer soldiers — everyday citizens — fortifying the highways with sandbags to block Russian military vehicles from passing.

When he and his partner eventually reached his parents’ house about 70 kilometres south of the city, they ate dinner in the dark, since the city’s lights go out at 10 p.m.

“They don’t want Russian bombers to see what the layout of the city is, so pretty much the [whole] city goes dark. Everybody turns their lights off at home to feel safer again, not to show where the houses are,” he explained.
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It was the first time his girlfriend met his parents, he noted. It was the first night in several, he added, that the sound of planes — not sirens — kept them awake.

A mattress propped up against a window shields a Ukrainian family from the risk of shattered glass in an explosion as Russia continues its violent and unprovoked incursion. Illya Swan/

Read more: Stocks swing, Russian ruble plunges as West ratchets up sanctions over Ukraine invasion

The following day, the couple drove to meet friends in a part of western Ukraine that hasn’t seen conflict yet.

As of Sunday, Lebedyntsev and his girlfriend were safe by the Romanian border.

“When you’re being bombed and you’re scared, it feels like there’s nothing you can do, and you’re just petrified,” he said.

“The moment we got here and we got some sleep for the first time, we put on clean clothes … we started to feel like shit. We left, but we need to do something.”

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Click to play video: 'Negotiations and more fighting on Day 6 of the Ukraine invasion'
Negotiations and more fighting on Day 6 of the Ukraine invasion

Asked if he would pick up arms, as so many Ukrainian civilians have, Lebedyntsev said he felt he could be more useful in other ways, including financial donations and volunteering to photograph the conflict for non-profit organizations.

“My only military training has been ‘Call of Duty,'” he said. “I’m really proud of people who have done that … you know, we’re all doing what we can.”

In addition to financial donations, Lebedyntsev encouraged Canadians who are watching the conflict from abroad to protest, write their members of Parliament, demand stricter sanctions against Russia, and press for more aid for Ukraine.

Read more: Putin’s ‘deeply irrational’ nuclear threat must not deter West: Rae

On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed Canada will send anti-tank weapons and upgraded ammunition to support Ukraine‘s fight against Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s unprovoked invasion.

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Ottawa also plans to prohibit all imports of Russian crude oil — a commodity Trudeau said has enriched Putin and the Russian oligarchs surrounding him.

Ukraine, meanwhile, has requested to join the European Union as ceasefire talks with Russia in Belarus failed to produce any breakthroughs on Monday.

— With files from Kristen Robinson

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