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Vietnamese in Ukraine see life upended amid crisis

By Dang Khoa   February 24, 2022 | 08:31 pm PT
Ukrainian-Vietnamese are taking shelter, stockpiling food and keeping their fingers crossed amid the crisis with Russia.

Instead of heading to work Thursday morning, Nguyen Huyen Anh, an ophthalmologist in Kharkiv spent time packing clothes and other belongings besides medicines.

That afternoon, she spent hours in an underground metro station which has been turned into a bomb shelter with her husband and son.

People take shelter in a subway station, after Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized a military operation in eastern Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine February 24, 2022. Photo by Reuters

People take shelter in a subway station, after Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized a military operation in eastern Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine February 24, 2022. Photo by Reuters

Earlier that day Russia began a "special military operation" against Ukraine.

"I did not expect this to happen so soon," Anh said.

Kharkiv is 42 km from the Russian border.

On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the launch of the operation in eastern Ukraine to protect Donetsk and Lugansk, two breakaway areas in the Donbass region whose sovereignty Russia has recognized.

Russia has repeatedly accused Ukrainian government troops of breaking the Minsk agreements and threatened to use force to retake control of the entire Donbass region.

The Ukrainian government has denied the allegations and said it has no plans to go to war.

Anh said after a few loud explosions at 5 a.m. authorities made announcements advising people to shelter in underground metro stations by 3 p.m.

"My family's priority is sheltering."

Ukrainians seek shelter in a subway station in Kharkiv, Feb. 24, 2022. Video by Nguyen Hong Anh

On Thursday morning major roads in the capital Kyiv were blocked with traffic, shops were crowded and ATM queues were long as people sought to stock up on supplies.

Nguyen Thanh Hieu, a Vietnamese man who has been living in Kyiv for 17 years, said: "This is the worst morning I’ve ever had. I woke up with dozens of calls from family and friends, and the noise of people screaming".

Besides worrying about his family’s safety, he is also concerned about how to survive the next few days "if things get worse.

"Many people in Vietnam urge me to leave, but I cannot since I have a textile shop here. I can’t just up and leave."

When Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy imposed martial law, Hieu and others realized the situation was serious.

"Life is surely upended. I must prepare for this," Nguyen Lan of Odessa said.

Schools and offices in the eastern region closed down on Thursday morning.

On many Facebook groups, Vietnamese living in Ukraine have been telling each other to be careful and find shelter as soon and not panic.

Though caught off guard, people in the country quickly came up with plans for staying safe amid the panic on the streets.

The first thing Vu Chan, who has been living in Kharkiv for over 40 years, did on Thursday morning was to stand in long queues to buy groceries.

"I bought two carts full of food ranging from cooking oil and cheese to things that will not go bad easily like sausages and noodles," the 64-year-old said.

There were also long queues in front of ATMs as people rushed to withdraw money fearing a possible war.

"Cars lined up for kilometers in front of gas stations as well," Chan said.

Anh and her husband only took 30 minutes to pack their stuff before waiting for advice from local authorities and sheltering in the underground station.

There was no jostling as everyone tried to keep calm, she said.

"I tried my best to remain calm."

She said her husband was even reading his favorite book while sheltering at the station.

Anh’s husband keeps calm and reads a book while sheltering in a subway station in Kharkiv, Ukraine. Feb. 24, 2022.

Anh’s husband keeps calm and reads a book while sheltering in a subway station in Kharkiv, Ukraine. Feb. 24, 2022. Photo courtesy of Anh

"It is perilous to go outside at the moment, not only because of potential bombs and explosions but also robbers," she told VnExpress International on the poor Internet connection underground.

Hieu said he would stay in the metro station until authorities tell people to go home to "avoid looting."

When it became safer shortly afterward Anh returned home but Hieu in Kyiv stayed until 10 p.m.

No intention of fleeing

Unlike locals who can leave towns and move to relatives’ homes in safer areas, Vietnamese perforce have to seek shelter to avoid the intensifying shelling.

While Hieu and Anh’s families went to the stations, many others remained at home.

Instead of rushing to stock up on essential items like many others, on Thursday Lan stayed at home in Odessa.

"I just stay home and keep following the news about the situation".

Lan, who has been living in Ukraine for more than three decades, said he does not plan to leave the country since it is now his home and would "pick up the gun" if he has to.

According to Vietnam ambassador’s to Ukraine, Nguyen Hong Thach, Vietnamese in the country "have no intention to evacuate yet".

The embassy is in regular contact with the community and has plans to safeguard Vietnamese citizens in case of necessity.

"Vietnamese in Ukraine are calmly watching the situation," Thach said.

People queue at an ATM after Russian President Valadimir Putin authorized a military operation in eastern Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine February 24, 2022. Photo by Reuters

People queue at an ATM after Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized a military operation in eastern Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine February 24, 2022. Photo by Reuters

But many people are also waiting for further guidance from the embassy and from local authorities. Their families in Vietnam, anxious for their safety, keep calling and checking on them constantly.

"I planned to return to Vietnam in March, but with this conflict, I am not sure whether I will see my family next month," Anh said while sitting among many Ukrainians at the metro station.

Next to her, dozens of children, having no idea about what was going on, were crying.

 
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