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'Dead worried': S'poreans with loved ones in Ukraine find ways to bring them to safety, give them support

SINGAPORE — In Ms Liubovych Valeriia’s hometown of Kirovograd, a city in central Ukraine, the streets are empty.

Ms Liubovych, 30, and her two Singaporean sons aged two and eight are trying to return to Singapore from Ukraine.

Ms Liubovych, 30, and her two Singaporean sons aged two and eight are trying to return to Singapore from Ukraine.

  • Some Singaporeans with loved ones in Ukraine told TODAY that they were concerned about their safety following Russia's invasion
  • One Ukrainian married to a Singaporean is trying to find a way back to Singapore with her Singaporean children
  • Another Singaporean said he is trying to get his Ukrainian in-laws out of the country

SINGAPORE — In Ms Liubovych's hometown of Kirovograd, a city in central Ukraine, the streets are empty.

Its residents are keeping indoors out of fear following Russia’s attack on Ukraine on Thursday (Feb 24) morning, which began in eastern Ukraine but has since reached the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.

The residents in Kirovograd are in a state of shock and panic, said Ms Liubovych who spoke to TODAY on Friday. She declined to give her full name to protect the safety of her family.

Ms Liubovych, whose husband and two sons are Singaporeans, said her initial reaction to the invasion was first of disbelief, followed by shock.

“Ukraine and Russia are like two brothers, so how can a war happen?” said the 30-year-old.

While there have been no bombs or military presence where she is so far, Ms Liubovych said that people had rushed out to panic-buy groceries from shops and withdraw their money from automated teller machines the day before.

For her, the biggest worry is the safety of her two sons aged two and eight.

“I don’t care about myself. I’m scared because I have two kids and I just want to safely go back to Singapore.”

Ms Liubovych is a Long-Term Visit Pass holder in Singapore. She had returned to be with her family in Ukraine two years ago while her husband remained in Singapore to work.

Speaking to TODAY in Singapore, Ms Liubovych’s sister-in-law, Madam Lee, said that she was “distressed” about the safety of Ms Liubovych and her children. She also declined to give her full name, out of concern for Ms Liubovych's safety.

“I couldn’t sleep the whole night. I’m dead worried about their safety and I want them to quickly come back.”

The 31-year-old Singaporean, who works in the finance industry, said that she has been posting on various Facebook groups, such as the Ukrainian Embassy in Singapore and groups for expatriates here, to find ways to help her sister-in-law and nephews return to Singapore. She had also contacted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for help.

Her brother, who is Ms Liubovych’s husband, had flown to Poland on Friday to find a way to take them back to Singapore.

Ms Liubovych said that her plan is to leave Ukraine as quickly as possible. She has train tickets for next Thursday from Kirovograd to a city closer to Poland. From there, she will find a way to enter Poland and fly back to Singapore.

Other Singaporeans are also concerned for the safety of their loved ones in Ukraine and seeking ways to get them to safety. 

Mr Fu Guoqiang, a 35-year-old Singaporean, is in touch with his Ukrainian in-laws to help them leave the country. 

Mr Fu, an entrepreneur, had left the country for Portugal last month with his Ukrainian wife and two-year-old son after living there for six years. 

“We left a month ago to Portugal as I was concerned for the safety of my family. We also have plans to relocate to Portugal and back then, the possibility of an invasion just made us choose to leave earlier,” said Mr Fu.

Although Mr Fu had asked his wife’s parents and grandparents to leave Ukraine with them several times before, they had not wanted to as they held jobs in Kyiv and were hoping that armed conflict would not break out. 

Mr Fu said that he is looking for ways to help his wife’s mother and grandparents leave Ukraine through the Polish border.

Another Singaporean, Mr Abdullah Alsakaff, has applied for an entry visa into Singapore for his Yemeni nephew, who is studying in a Ukrainian university. 

His 27-year-old nephew, who lives in the town of Poltava, a four-hour drive away from Kyiv, has few places to go to.

Mr Abdullah, 39, said that his nephew is unable to return to Yemen, which is also in conflict. Neither is there a Yemeni embassy in Ukraine that can help him.

It will also be difficult for him to secure an entry permit to Saudi Arabia, where his parents are, due to his nationality, he added. Saudi Arabia had led a military intervention in Yemen in 2015.

“He doesn’t know what to do and has nowhere to go,” said Mr Abdullah, adding that his nephew was in despair.

Mr Abdullah said he wanted his nephew to come to Singapore so that he can be safe. Relatives here will be able to provide him with financial support and accommodation, added Mr Abdullah, who is the managing director of an oil and gas trading, mining and maritime services company.

Nevertheless, Mr Abdullah said he was concerned about his nephew being caught in the crossfire if the latter were to make his way to the Ukrainian city of Odessa, which has an international airport.

Ukrainians in Singapore were also worried for the safety of their family back home.

Dr Galyna Kogut said that she had seen the news about Russia’s attack on Ukraine on Thursday afternoon. 

Dr Kogut, a research fellow at the National Institute of Education who has lived in Singapore for more than 15 years, immediately contacted her family in Ukraine.

They were still asleep as it was early morning and unaware of the attack.

Dr Kogut said her immediate reactions to the news were numbness, shock and denial, which later evolved to sadness and anger.

“Until now sometimes, I tell myself I hope it’s a bad nightmare. It’s surreal. It’s very hard to believe that this can happen in the 21st century,” said Dr Kogut, who is the President of the Ukrainian Club in Singapore.

The club organises cultural events for the Ukrainian community here.

She said that her immediate family and relatives, who live in various areas around Ukraine, are not leaving the country but staying off the streets to avoid airstrikes.

As for Ukrainians in Singapore, Dr Kogut said there is nothing much they can do at this point except to give emotional support to each other in these difficult times.

“I try to keep in touch with (family) and check in regularly… People on the ground are worried about their lives. It’s a real war so what we can do is stay in touch and give them support.”

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