Americans in Ukraine explain why they won't comply with US embassy warning to leave 'ASAP' amid fears of a Russian invasion

·5 min read
A woman walks past the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, Jan. 24, 2022
A woman walks past the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, Jan. 24, 2022Efrem Lukatsky/AP Photo
  • Fears are rising of a Russian invasion of Ukraine in the coming weeks.

  • The US embassy in Kyiv has urged Americans living in Ukraine to leave ASAP, according to Insider sources.

  • Several US citizens told Insider they plan to stay put unless the situation worsens.

On Wednesday, the US Embassy in Kyiv issued a statement urging American citizens in Ukraine to "consider" departing due to the increased threat of a Russian invasion.

Embassy officials struck an even more severe tone during a virtual town hall meeting on Tuesday night, according to two people who attended. Approximately 1,000 Americans on the call were encouraged to leave "as soon as possible," the sources told Insider.

Diplomats warned expats that the US might not be able to evacuate them should Russia invade, the sources said, mirroring Secretary of State Antony Blinken's words and advice to "strongly consider" leaving now.

The US State Department has only ordered the families of all American personnel at the US Embassy in Kyiv to leave the country immediately. For everyone else, the choice is theirs.

But, despite the stark warnings, several expats told Insider that they intend to ignore the guidance and stay put for now.

Some Americans are reluctant to leave Ukraine

John, 60, who asked only to be referred to by his first name, told Insider he has no intention of leaving the Ukrainian capital. "I don't feel endangered," he said. "People are used to this level of hostility."

Likewise, Heath Morrison, an American technology executive based in Kyiv since 2010, said he's also unlikely to leave any time soon because "things are kind of normal still."

Morrison runs a business in Ukraine, and his six-year-old son is at school. Leaving would be "very disruptive," he told Insider. "I think only if there was a risk to Kyiv would we very seriously think about leaving," he said.

While most attention has been focused on the nearly 20,000 Russian troops on the east and southeastern border of Ukraine, reports say that Russia has begun moving troops, armor, and advanced antiaircraft systems into Belarus — a close ally.

The Belarus-Ukraine border
The Belarus-Ukraine border. Kyiv is about 250 miles away.Google

Kyiv is only about 250 miles away from the Belarusian border, and, per the Atlantic Council, Russia could attack the capital from Belarus without having to enter from the east or southeast and traverse the Dnipro River.

It means that there's a possibility of an offensive on Kyiv should Russia invade, The New York Times reported.

Morrison said he does have contingency plans to help his family escape if that happens.

Kendall Tiarra in Ukraine
Kendall Tiarra, who lives in Radovel, Ukraine, poses for a photo.Kendall Tiarra

Close to the Belarusian border, in a village called Radovel, Kendall Tiarra is working as an English teacher. The 25-year-old Las Vegas native told Insider that the villagers in Radovel aren't "very nervous" about the threat of invasion.

Tiarra said that while the villagers are relatively calm, she became uneasy when anxious friends and family back home reached out as media reports became increasingly alarmed.

Indeed, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told President Joe Biden on Thursday to "calm down the messaging" about the threat of a Russian invasion because it was stirring panic, CNN reported, citing an unnamed Ukrainian official.

While Tiarra said she's not afraid enough to leave Radovel just yet, she has considered making a 10-hour drive to Lviv in western Ukraine if the situation escalates. From there, Tiarra explained, she could cross borders into a neighboring country or fly out of Ukraine.

Lviv in western Ukraine
Lviv, in western Ukraine, is closer to the borders with Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania than Kyiv.Google

Dan Rapoport, a 52-year-old Texan investment banker, also plans to travel west from Kyiv if an invasion occurs. But for now, he's also ignoring the advice from embassy officials and the State Department.

"As soon as the Russians start shelling positions from the north, as soon as tanks cross the border, as soon as anything that could potentially signal an invasion from Belarus into Ukraine, that's the time we're gonna pack up and head west," he told Insider.

Due to geographical and cultural factors, the western parts of Ukraine are considered mainly to be at less risk of invasion.

Rapoport said that while he doesn't think he's in "immediate danger," he has provisions in place for a potential emergency departure. "I have a bag packed. I have cash, I have documents, I have a deal with somebody who can take my dog while we're gone," he said.

'Everybody seems to have a plan'

Nate Ostiller, a 30-year-old San Franciscan, doesn't want to wait.

He said attending the virtual town hall meeting with the embassy, and hearing that Americans might struggle to get out of Ukraine, motivated him to set his plan in motion. He intends to follow the guidance.

Ostiller, who has been on a student exchange program in Kyiv since August 2020, has booked to fly to Tbilisi in Georgia next week.

"I would prefer not to go," he told Insider. "Tbilisi's a nice city, but I would rather stay here."

But the student is hopeful that he wouldn't be saying goodbye to Ukraine for good. "I assume fully that I'll be back by March," he said.

While Ostiller appreciates that many Americans don't feel ready to leave just yet, he said there's one thing they all have in common.

"Everybody seems to have a plan."

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