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Friends called and said goodbye before joining army, says Ukrainian in UK

“You fall asleep thinking, ‘Am I going to have a home in the morning? Am I going to have parents?’,” Yana Usherenko-Fialkova said.

02 March 2022

A Ukrainian woman living in London said her friends called from Ukraine and said goodbye before enlisting to fight Russia.

Yana Usherenko-Fialkova, 31, was born and grew up in Kyiv but has lived in the UK, where she works as a lawyer, for 10 years.

She said her family fled Ukraine’s capital the day before Russia invaded.

“It is an overwhelming terror that you can’t shake off – that goes to the core of your very being,” Ms Usherenko-Fialkova, who lives in Poplar, east London, told the PA news agency.

Yana Usherenko-Fialkova by Alex Vilkov
Yana Usherenko-Fialkova’s family fled Kyiv the day before Russia invaded on Thursday (Alex Vilkov/PA)

“It feels like everything you know, everything that makes you who you are – your entire foundation is being destroyed every second of every day,” she said of the war.

“Everything you know and love – you fall asleep thinking, ‘Am I going to have a home in the morning? Am I going to have parents? Am I going to have friends alive?’”

Ms Usherenko-Fialkova’s parents remain just outside Kyiv with her 92-year-old grandmother.

“They are terrified… it’s the potential horror that scares them the most,” she said.

“And we have my Grandma, who can’t leave. And if she’s not leaving, no one’s leaving.

“No one’s been sleeping for the last week, really.”

Ms Usherenko-Fialkova also described being worried about the safety of countless friends who are fighting in Ukraine’s military.

“My friends are out there and they are fighting in the Territorial Defence,” she said.

“They’re in the streets right now… every night I go to bed reading the news of grenades and bombs being flooded over Kyiv, things being shot at and Russian army troops in the streets and I’m thinking, ‘Are they going to get to where my friends are stationed? Am I going to see them again?’

“Some of them called and said goodbye when they enlisted into the Territorial Defence.”

Ms Usherenko-Fialkova spoke of the “overwhelming sense of pride” that has swept across her home nation.

“As a country, it has been absolutely wide-opening and fantastic – heartbreaking, absolutely heartbreaking, but fantastic to see what we have become in such a short space of time,” she said.

“We always have been, but even we didn’t know how amazing we are.”

She appealed to friends in London and has already been able to provide £700 of humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

“We bought sleeping bags, socks, warm clothes, hygiene products and baby food… oh, my God, the kids and babies that are struggling for food, I can’t even bear the thought of it,” she said.

Russian invasion of Ukraine
Many have gathered for vigils in solidarity with Ukraine, such as in Edinburgh, Scotland (PA)

“Nappies, wipes, masks and gloves, and people desperately need basic needs like paracetamol, ibuprofen, and cold meds.

“But after that, I realised it’s not enough… what is needed is so much more than this.”

Ms Usherenko-Fialkova plans to devote her time appealing to large companies and urging them to donate as much as possible.

“I want to encourage the big companies to donate humanitarian aid,” she said.

“They produce the stuff, produce the essentials, baby food, soap, toothbrushes, I want them to do something and ship a box.”

“I need the companies who have access to this to stand up and do something as well.”

Ms Usherenko-Fialkova said she cannot fight in Ukraine but can do her bit from the UK to support her country.

“If I have to go to the shop and buy the goods and ship them through to volunteers and trucks, I will do that,” she said.

“Every single one of us Ukrainians has a post… this is mine.

“And every single Ukrainian woman – and I’m not talking about myself here – is worth a legion of Russian soldiers.”

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