Briton pleads with wife to flee Ukraine as Russian invasion begins

Gary Smith, whose wife Helen remains in Kharkiv, said: ‘I couldn’t sleep all night… She’s all I’ve got.’

24 February 2022

A British man who has been pleading with his wife to leave Ukraine has told of “a feeling of fear I’ve never experienced” as Russian military action begins.

In a televised statement at midday, Boris Johnson vowed that Britain “cannot and will not just look away” as Vladimir Putin launches a full-scale invasion on Ukraine, and pledged that allies will respond with a massive package of sanctions designed to “hobble the Russian economy”.

Gary Smith lives in Newcastle but his wife, Helen, is Russian and has lived in Ukraine for more than 30 years.

Despite the ongoing crisis, she will not leave Kharkiv in northeast Ukraine, just 25 miles from Russia’s border, in order to be near her father in the Russian city of Belgorod.

Mr Smith, 53, told the PA news agency: “I couldn’t sleep all night.”

“I’m not working today… I rang my boss this morning and I cried, I’ll be honest with you.

“She’s all I’ve got, I’ve got no family here. She’s my family.

“It’s a feeling of fear I’ve never experienced – being in this situation.”

Gary Smith and wife Helen
Gary Smith said about his wife Helen: ‘She’s all I’ve got’ (Gary Smith/PA)

Mr Smith, who works in payment solutions, has asked his wife to head west for the Ukrainian city of Lviv, around 40 miles from the Polish border.

“I said, ‘go to Lviv if it kicks off,’ and she said ‘no, I’m staying here because I’ve got my dad, I’m worried about my dad’,” Mr Smith said.

“She heard the explosions last night, she said ‘it’s not the Russians bombing,’ – that it’s a third party.

“I said ‘Helen, it’s not. It’s the Russian military’.”

Mr Smith met the 55-year-old university lecturer in 2012 and the pair were married in Ukraine in 2019.

The two have never lived in the same country, but have regularly visited each other in both the UK and Ukraine over the last 10 years.

The couple were next scheduled to see each other in Newcastle for Mr Smith’s birthday in May, though he fears the ongoing crisis will disrupt their plans.

And while deciding not to leave Kharkiv imminently, Mr Smith’s wife has voiced concerns for her safety.

“She said, ‘I don’t want to die, I want to buy a house with a garden’,” Mr Smith said.

“She’s bought some duct tape for the windows.”

Mr Smith added he worries about what it might take for his wife to leave.

“I honestly don’t know, possibly seeing a dead body, or civilians on the ground, unfortunately dead,” he said.

“Innocent civilians possibly, and I hope that never happens.

“(But) she’s lived there for 30 odd years and that is her home.”

Mr Smith is holding onto hope that she might fly to Bali to be with her daughter, and has warned her of the possibilities ahead.

“There will be a battle, and I’ve said that to Helen, ‘there will be a battle,’” he said.

“Maybe today, or tomorrow or whenever.

“(Putin) is an evil, evil man… Evil, nasty, a vindictive man, a liar, he has lied to the world.”

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