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Briton who fled Kyiv with family speaks of near-miss with Russian bombs

English teacher Dan Baker, his Ukrainian wife, stepdaughter and their cat Pumpkin have now fled Kyiv.

08 March 2022

A Brighton-born English teacher has told how he and his Ukrainian family came within minutes of being caught up in Russian bombing raids as they fled the capital Kyiv by road.

Dan Baker has lived in the capital with his Ukrainian wife Victoria, 34, and 12-year-old stepdaughter Veronica, for more than five years.

The 41-year-old had vowed to stay put despite bitter fighting in the outer suburbs and nightly air raids, but decided it was time to leave that after hearing claims Russian soldiers were “raping” women in occupied areas.

“I was quite happy to die to support my family, I wasn’t scared of the fighting, wasn’t scared of the war or the bombs or anything,” he said.

Air raids on Sumy
The town of Sumy in eastern Ukraine on Tuesday, after Russian bombs fell overnight (National Police of Ukraine/PA)

“The one thing that swung it for me and I said, ‘That’s it, I’ve got to get out of here’, is when I heard reports that the Russian soldiers were raping the wives and the daughters of the men they had killed. 

“That was enough for me because what’s the point of me dying to protect my family and then, when I’m dead, that happens?”

Mr Baker spoke of getting used to the wail of daily air raid sirens, and of ordinary Ukrainians’ “resilience” in the face of death and destruction.

The family, together with cat Pumpkin, had all been staying in the school they run, in the basement of a brick building.

Pumpkin the cat
Pumpkin the cat is also with the family, making their way westwards (Dan Baker/PA)

However, on Friday evening the family “made quite an emotional decision” to leave, joining more than two million refugees.

“It went against everything,” he said.

“Honestly, I felt like I was letting people down by not staying because I had promised to stay.

“But the status quo of danger had changed – it was now more dangerous to stay than leave.”

The family were ready to go as soon as Kyiv’s curfew lifted at 7am but were unable to take their car directly westwards because the road was “unsafe”.

Instead, they took what is normally a four-hour drive south to Vinnytsia – though it took 15-and-a-half hours with detours, heavy traffic and hours of petrol station queues.

Road gridlock in Ukraine

Gridlock of the roads in Ukraine as thousands flee heavy fighting (Dan Baker/PA)

Despite accommodation being at a premium, an acquaintance generously offered them use of a “granny annexe in the garden of a big mansion”.

Mr Baker said it had been the result of “five years’ of networking”, adding: “It’s a good idea to be nice to people here”.

Although they left early the next morning, it took the family three hours to get fuel.

Just 25 minutes after he and his family left the city, Russian missiles destroyed its airport – a mile from where the Bakers had been staying.

When he recounted the story to his relatives in England, Mr Baker’s father told him, “You’re cutting it a bit fine, son”, with the teacher jokingly replying: “It was 24 minutes more than we needed.”

By Sunday, the family had arrived in Khmelnytskyi, where they got beds in a conference room in a sports hall.

On Monday, the family reached Lviv where, after speaking to journalists, reporters offered them a place to stay.

“They gave us a flat to stay in for three days because they don’t need it at the moment,” he added. “That was ITV News.”

Mr Baker described having to leave the family’s home in Kyiv as “devastating” but said they were luckier than most; having a car, friends that had given them places to stay and – by pure coincidence – visas, already, to get into England.

“My brother is getting married on April 2 and so we already had visas to come to the UK,” he said.

“I think I’m going to fall apart when I get to England, but we’ll be in a safe place – so that’s all right,” Mr Baker added.

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