Hiding in bunkers up to 10 times a day, travelling the country to find safe zones and lugging backpacks of food and water around to protect them, has become a part of daily life for residents in war torn Kyiv, according to an Australian expat.
Speaking to Central News, Artem Sydorenko, who migrated to Australia as a seven-year-old, gave an insight into life for members of his family who remained in Ukraine.
The 19-year-old Sydneysider has had to watch his family, including his dad and half-siblings, battling the crisis from the sidelines with his mum, little brother and step-dad.
Artem’s grandparents stayed in Kyiv and ended up in what he called “the worst path”.
Every time the air sirens would go off, they have to go downstairs to the bunkers.
“They were going down into the bunkers maybe 10 times a day, up and down maybe 55 stairs,” he said.
“Carrying heavy backpacks filled with water, food supplies … every time the air sirens would go off, they have to go downstairs to the bunkers.
“It’s just a lot of work, a lot of stress … their entire day is just walking up and down the stairs.”
Artem’s dad, who is from Brovary, a satellite city of Kyiv, tried to relocate west with his family, but was asked by the police to go back.
“He wasn’t welcome there because their attitude towards men fleeing their cities was like, ‘Well if our men are going to be fighting the war to secure central Ukraine and Eastern Ukraine then how come the men from there can come and just seek refuge’,” Artem said.
“My dad ended up going back to that city and just doing some security stuff around there, some volunteering.”
Many of Artem’s relatives are now volunteering to aid the crisis but are not participating in the war.
Artem’s mum is also involved in some volunteering in Australia to help Ukrainians migrate, such as organising seminars and making arrangements to accommodate refugees.
“If she didn’t have a kid, she would actually go likely to Poland or one of the neighbouring countries to volunteer to help with people moving,” he said.
The crisis has impacted Ukrainian-Australians, with many feeling highly stressed by the situation.
Artem added the impact had been mainly on his mum as she lived in Ukraine for most of her life.
“She’s been under a lot of stress, it’s hard for her to concentrate on work,” Artem said.
“She went into a bit of a depressive state, like she was quite depressed just because she didn’t know what to do to help.”
He recalled feelings of anxiety in the lead-up to Russia’s invasion in February.
“My mum and I would talk about it in the car all the time and just at home, and we’d always be like ‘Okay, this is probably gonna happen’,” Artem said.
The main thing is uncertainty, you just want to consume more news … just to find out what’s happening.
“We were talking to our relatives in Ukraine seeing if everyone there was aware of the situation, and everyone was. It wasn’t as simple as one moment when it happened.”
When the Russo-Ukrainian conflict escalated Artem spent many nights browsing the news, concerned for his family.
“The main thing is uncertainty, you just want to consume more news … just to find out what’s happening,” he said.
“We did actually contact our relatives and … everyone in Ukraine, straight away, [they] were already in the mindset that it was a war.”
While some of Artem’s relatives fled to western Ukraine, others decided to stay in their hometown, Kyiv.
Artem said he could not see much of a positive end to the war, with the best possible outcome being Russia retreating.
“There’s no victory for anyone on either side … whether Russia retreats, or they don’t, the economy’s kinda screwed … a lot of buildings have been destroyed,” he said.
“A lot of people were lost in the battles, so a lot of families have been affected … kids are traumatised.”
Living in a western nation, Artem personally feels he wants Ukraine to align more with the West rather than with Russia, and be accepted into NATO.
Kyiv residents lined up in a long queue to pick up animals from the "Temporary Animal Shelter" – pets that were left homeless in this war.
In these hard times, with all the problems that the people of 🇺🇦 are facing, they still find love in their hearts to care for lost animals. pic.twitter.com/8uqfnqFapx
— Anton Gerashchenko (@Gerashchenko_en) July 18, 2022
“I think that’s everyone’s opinion in Ukraine, like everyone that I personally am connected to does want to be closer to the West,” he said.
According to the 2016 Census, approximately 46,000 people of Ukrainian descent live in Australia.
Despite being an ethnic minority, Artem said that the Ukrainian community in Australia has become more united following the events occurring overseas.
“The impact in Australia has actually been positive. It’s brought together a lot of Ukrainian families, it’s brought together the culture,” he said.
Artem added that the conflict has also brought together the Ukrainian community and Russian community in Australia.
“Ukrainians and Russians are almost the same community essentially … and a lot of Russians do sympathise quite a lot here in Australia,” he said.
Artem attended the #StandwithUkraine gathering at the Sydney Opera House and recalls it being a “really beautiful day”.
“[It] was really emotional, everyone started singing the anthem … just felt like a really strong community,” he added.
“I’m actually very proud to be Ukrainian right now because the people back home have shown a lot of resilience.”
Main photo of Artem and his mum Olena Lima, supplied by Artem Sydorenko.