An Australian woman and her partner who recently returned to Ukraine’s capital despite the threat of war has spoken of her heartbreak as they fled the country in the wake of the Russian invasion.
Sydneysider Pixie Shmigel, whose grandparents fled Ukraine after World War II, returned to live in the capital Kiev six months ago with her partner, Blake, because she missed life in the eastern European country.
Ms Shmigel had only just returned to Ukraine after three weeks in Montenegro when Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his assault on the country on Thursday.
She and Blake have now fled the the Russian invasion, escaping to Poland via Medyka on the border with Ukraine, where she was interviewed by Reuters.
‘Just shattered. Shattered not for myself, I don’t care about my own safety, I just … I care about Ukraine and Ukrainians,’ Ms Shmigel told a reporter as she fought back tears.
‘I’m of Ukrainian heritage, and seeing this happening to the country is just devastating. I just can’t believe someone could be so evil.
‘But the Ukrainians stay strong. They need to. But they’re stronger than me. The world gets behind them.’
Sydneysider Pixie Shmigel (right) fought back tears as she told a reporter she was ‘shattered not for myself, I don’t care about my own safety, I just … I care about Ukraine and Ukrainians’
Ms Shmigel (left) and her partner Blake (right) are seen leaving Ukraine by crossing into Poland at Medyka as the Russians advance on the Ukrainian capital, Kiev
Ms Shmigel (right), whose grandparents fled Ukraine after World War II, returned to live in the capital Kiev six months ago with Blake because she missed life in the eastern European country
Traffic jams are seen as people leave the Ukrainian capital city of Kiev on Thursday
Blake said the two had not slept for the past two nights as reports filtered in about the encroachment of the Russians.
‘I just called it when I saw it. I think there were reports of … Kharkiv and Mariupol getting approached on so then I just knew we had to get out,’ he said.
‘And this was always our plan, to come here.’
Ms Shmigel thanked the United States for its assistance in helping her and Blake leave the country via the border crossing.
‘[We’ll] get to the U.S. assistance centre down the line and then ask them where to go and what to do, what they think is best, see if there is a train to, I don’t know, Krakow, maybe, but I didn’t think that far…’ she said.
Ms Shmigel had recently written an opinion piece on her decision to return to the land of her forebears.
‘I can choose to be afraid of a bully in the Kremlin, or I can continue to stand strong like all the Ukrainians who are currently doing the same,’ she wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald.
‘One of our Ukrainian friends showed me a meme which sticks in my mind. It depicts Putin as a very small man and Ukrainians as giants. That’s how Ukrainians think of themselves, as staunch and steadfast protectors of their country.’
‘I’m of Ukrainian heritage, and seeing this happening to the country is just devastating. I just can’t believe someone could be so evil,’ Ms Shmigel said as she fled the country to Poland in the wake of the Russian invasion
Above, Ms Shmigel – a businesswoman – is seen in Sydney before she and partner Blake decided to relocate to Kiev, Ukraine
She wrote that the ‘panicked headlines’ around the world had not squared with her experience of life in Kiev.
Despite the drums of war, people kept going about their business; planning birthday parties and raves, enjoying their morning coffees, ‘continuing life’, she wrote.
Citizens in the Ukrainian capital have been ordered into bomb shelters and declared a curfew amid concerns the Russian are poised to strike the capital.
Ukrainian troops lost control of a key airfield around 35km away from Kiev. Russian forces had attacked it with around two dozen attack helicopters earlier in the day, four of which are thought to have been shot down.
The Ukrainian army is currently fighting in almost every region of the country, battling the Russians for control of military bases, airports, cities and ports from Kharkiv to Kiev, and Donetsk to Odessa.
Central Ukraine’s Vinnytsia military base is seen under attack by Russian forces
In the area of Glukhova, overnight the Ukrainian military engaged a armoured column of 15 Russian T-72 tanks with American Javelin missiles
It came after Vladimir Putin personally gave the order to attack early on Thursday morning, unleashing a salvo of rocket fire that American intelligence said involved more than 100 short and medium-range ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and surface-to-air missiles, and 75 bombers that targeted military sites including barracks, warehouses and airfields in order to knock out the country’s military command structure.
US authorities believe Putin plans to encircle forces in Kiev and force them to either surrender or be destroyed by Sunday, and the leadership of Ukraine to fall in a week.
A source close to the Ukrainian government said they agreed that Kiev will be surrounded within 96 hours but believed the government will stay strong and not collapse.