Vietnamese, Ukrainian sweethearts hope for reunion

By Pham Nga   March 15, 2022 | 03:00 am PT
A couple in love talk about their fears and how much they miss each other after they were separated due to the Ukrainian crisis.

Tran Duc Anh, a 30-year-old Hanoian, received a call from his girlfriend, Anita, at 10 a.m. on Feb. 24.

"A war has broken out in my country," the 22-year-old model said amid sobs from the city of Kharkiv.

Anh says: "I could hear the sound of planes and explosions over the phone. My heart sank because I had not expected my girlfriend to face such a predicament."

He encouraged her to remain calm, but admits he too was panicky at the time.

After spending two years in Vietnam due to Covid-19, Anita left for home last December to visit her family and get her single status certified since the two plan to get married some time this year.

Tran Duc Anh and Anita in the first days of their relationship, August 2020. Photo courtesy of Anh

Tran Duc Anh and Anita in the early days of their relationship in August 2020. Photo courtesy of Anh

She traveled to Vietnam in early 2020 on a two-month modeling contract.

Before her contract was up, the pandemic struck and international flights were grounded, leaving her stranded in Vietnam.

Anh met Anita in mid-2020 while visiting a friend's house. He was immediately captivated when he saw her blue eyes, blonde hair and gentle smile.

Despite his modest English, he took the initiative and introduced himself to her. They exchanged contact details and he later asked her out. One day, over sushi, the two talked about Vietnam's working environment, people and landscapes.

From the beginning even before Anh could finish a sentence she could guess what he was going to say.

She says: "I'm not sure why but I've always understood him. Perhaps it was destiny."

They were an item after four dates though neither spoke about it.

When her contract expired, Anita began working as a freelance model. After finishing his work as a real estate agent, he would help her schedule work and meet clients.

He would take her to photo locations and wait patiently for her. Her life in a foreign country became safer and more comfortable after meeting him.

With her looks, she attracted the interest of many men, but she was in love with Anh and did not respond to people’s friend ‘requests’ or messages.

She would cook his favorite dishes and clean his house whenever she had time to come around.

Anh says: "She would do it cheerfully, as a true housewife would. I believe young Vietnamese girls today are not like that".

His parents were initially opposed to their son falling in love with a foreign girl because they feared the relationship would be short-lived. But they changed their mind after meeting her and seeing her roll into the kitchen to clean and care for her son.

The pandemic brought them together but also put their love to the test.

When the real estate market fell into a slump because of the outbreak, he almost tried to end the relationship, fearing he would not be able to provide for her or bring her happiness.

But she rejected this and continued to come every day to cook and console him.

She assured him saying: "Whatever happens, I'll always be there for you."

They planned to marry at the end of 2021 and for her to later settle down in Vietnam.

When international flights resumed, she returned to Kharkiv to see her family and complete the marriage registration procedures.

"When the war erupted, I panicked and was afraid that I would lose the person I love," Anh says.

Anita says she was only concerned that if the worst happened to her, she would not see him again.

Since the conflict began the two have been making video calls to each other every day.

He saw her family, comprising mother, grandmother, sister, niece, and aunt, move to the middle of their apartment to stay away from windows.

He occasionally heard the sound of bombs and saw flashes through the window.

Every time he fell asleep and dreamed of hearing sirens or the sound of a plane, he would wake up and call Anita to ensure she was safe.

When her grandmother ran out of medicines there was some shelling outside, but Anita and her sister risked their lives and went out to get some. Anh was worried and did not look away from the screen for even a second, and sighed when she made it back safely.

"It's as if I'm living in the warzone myself, but I feel helpless because I can't do anything".

After reading the news and realizing the situation, he advised the family to evacuate to Lviv in western Ukraine where all the embassies had relocated.

But with Anita's grandmother ill and bedridden, they could only travel by train; her mother was required to stay back.

Unwillingly, the entire family decided to stay back and wait for peace to return.

But 10 days later Kharkiv was still being bombarded, and there were casualties, and her family finally decided to evacuate.

Anh saw the scenes of ruined houses, people queuing to buy food and smoke and dust on his video calls.

He stayed up for eight hours when she was in line to board the train, feeling heartbroken to see her sit with a tired look due to lack of sleep and fear on her face.

Kharkiv to Lviv is a 15-hour trip, but their train took 36 hours.

Anitas family on the train departing from Kharkiv to Lviv on March 3, 2022. Photo courtesy of Anita

Anita's family in the train from Kharkiv to Lviv on March 3, 2022. Photo courtesy of Anita

"Though she was evacuating due to the war, she was still concerned about my health since I had Covid, which made me love her even more," he says.

Anita is grateful for Anh's constant companionship. She got through the worst days of her life thanks to his moral support.

On March 5 Anita and her family were at relative ease in the apartment of a friend in Lviv.

Anh has joined Vietnamese groups in Ukraine to get instructions on how to get her back to Vietnam.

She will travel to Poland in two days and then obtain a passport to fly to Hanoi. They have agreed that when they reunite they will travel together more.

Anita used to enjoy exploring places but was unable to do so during her period in Hanoi due to the couple's hectic schedule.

"We've been separated by the war and don't know if we'll see each other again," Anh says.

"I have promised myself that when we meet again I will do everything I can for her so that I never have to regret anything."

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