A man who left the UK for a skiing holiday in his native country of Ukraine is now bracing himself to potentially fight Vladimir Putin’s invading army, after being told he could not cross the border with his family.
Tymofii Dmytrenko, a 39-year-old IT specialist, arrived in Kyiv with his wife and their two children on 18 February with the intention of going skiing and visiting his parents during a 10-day visit.
But after spending two days in the capital and a further few days at a ski resort the family decided that, due to Western warnings of an imminent Russian invasion, they should cut their trip short.
The family booked new tickets to fly on 25 February from Lviv to their home in Horsforth, Leeds, where they have lived since 2015.
But at 6am in Moscow, on the day before they were due to travel, Mr Putin launched his “special military operation” – heralded in Ukraine by the sound of Russian airstrikes in cities across the country.
Mr Dmytrenko described 24 February as “probably the most awful day in my life”.
Follow live updates as Ukraine defends against Russian invasion
In their search for safety, the family headed for the country’s western borders – a decision taken by at least 1.25 million others who have successfully left Ukraine over the past nine days, according to the UN.
After queuing for roughly four hours for fuel, Mr Dmytrenko and his family were able to take a taxi to Uzhhorod, near Slovakia.
After spending the night at a friend’s apartment, following a two-hour wait for a bus which never arrived – and was due to depart at 11:30pm – Mr Dmytrenko managed to book new bus tickets for his wife and their two children, aged 11 and 15, to take them across the Slovakian border.
World news in pictures
Show all 50
At 4pm on 25 February, his family boarded the bus to safety – but Mr Dmytrenko was not permitted to go with them.
Shortly before midnight the previous night, in a bid to shore up Ukraine’s military might, the government had announced that under martial law men aged between 18 and 60 would be banned from leaving the country
“It was a heart-breaking moment for me and my family,” Mr Dmytrenko said. “Everyone was crying, my kids were crying, my wife was crying. I wasn’t able to stop crying for a few hours after that. But luckily, they got through the border.”
His wife and children arrived back in the UK on Sunday – the same day that Mr Dmytrenko was called to the military registration office, where he was put on standby to join the war against advancing Russian troops.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky called up military reservists just prior to Mr Putin’s invasion, and his government has since urged men to sign up to the military, with the commander of Ukraine’s territorial defence forces announcing last Friday that the procedures for enlisting had been simplified and age limits removed. “Today Ukraine needs everything,” he said.
Having learned about surface-to-air missile systems at university in Ukraine, Mr Dmytrenko could be considered by the army as the equivalent of a “reserve” soldier, and said he will be told later this week whether he will be expected to serve. If so, he believes he will be given training beforehand.
“I think I am ready to serve my country, but I have mixed feelings,” he said.
“I have never held a gun or shot from it, and I don’t have any real military experience. I feel like without any proper training I’m kind of a meat bag at this moment in time, and this is worrying. I don’t know how these things will progress.”
While the courageous response of Ukraine’s military and ordinary citizens has been widely credited with hindering the progress of the Russian invasion, with some individuals attempting to stop advancing tanks with their bare hands and groups of residents turning their hand to creating Molotov cocktails, Mr Dmytrenko said: “It’s still a shock to many people here.
“We still don’t understand that this can be happening in the middle of Europe, next to the European Union … In my opinion, this is World War Three. If we lose, hypothetically, then Europe will get a madman next to its borders who has a nuclear weapon.”
He added: “Ukraine stands for democracy today … I am not a military guy. I don’t want to go to war. But I won’t have a choice. Please help us stop Putin before it’s too late.”
Additional reporting by SWNS
The Independent has a proud history of campaigning for the rights of the most vulnerable, and we first ran our Refugees Welcome campaign during the war in Syria in 2015.
Now, as we renew our campaign and launch this petition in the wake of the unfolding Ukrainian crisis, we are calling on the government to go further and faster to ensure help is delivered. To find out more about our Refugees Welcome campaign, click here.
To sign the petition click here. If you would like to donate then please click here for our GoFundMe page.