A Maltese family living in the capital of Ukraine – where threats of a Russian invasion have been looming – has spoken of the “rapid escalation” of panic and fear around them as friends and neighbours stock up on food and basic needs.
“At school, our sons are being prepared with air-raid drills and I know people who are attending online courses to be prepared in case of bombing and locating the nearest shelter to their homes,” said Juliya Azzopardi Mazur from her home in Kyiv where she relocated with her family last summer.
Ukrainian-born Juliya, her Maltese husband JJ and their two sons, Jaydee and Dominic, had been living in Malta before the family decided to move to Ukraine in July last year.
The family settled into their new lives but, a few months ago, things slowly started to change when the international press reported that Russia was massing troops along the Ukrainian border, sparking worldwide uncertainty about a possible invasion.
“Friends and relatives have been messaging and calling us to see how we are. We are fine but we are now starting to feel the panic,” she said, adding that, so far, the Maltese foreign office had not contacted them to tell them to leave the country.
Several countries around the world have asked their citizens to leave Ukraine and these include the United Kingdom, the United States, Japan and Australia.
Malta's foreign affairs ministry followed suit on Monday afternoon, when it advised all Maltese nationals in Ukraine to "take the first available flight back to Malta".
Locals have also been advised to avoid travelling to the country.
Juliya explained that the family will be flying out of Ukraine as they happened to have planned a two-week family holiday. They are not sure if they will be able to return home after that.
“We are packing the important documents and taking them with us in case we cannot return home after our holiday,” she said.
Ukrainian people living in Malta have expressed concerned about their loved ones back home with many wishing that they could bring them over for a few weeks until the situation settles but this cannot happen since Ukraine is on the coronavirus Dark Red list of countries.
Travel to Dark Red countries is banned except for exceptional circumstances and only with prior authorisation.
A health spokesperson said that anyone wishing to come to Malta from any Dark Red country can apply and each application will be seen to on its own merit and circumstances.
Anna Turanska moved to Malta seven years ago with her Hungarian husband and two children.
She last saw her parents, Vira and Aleksandr, two years ago before the pandemic struck in March 2020. Before that they would visit regularly.
“I am worried for my parents. They live in Kyiv. They are elderly and will not be able to get out of there fast enough if war breaks out,” she said.
“I just wish I could tell them to come over and stay with us in Malta for a few weeks. But I can’t because Ukraine is on the Dark Red list even though they are both vaccinated and boosted,” Anna said as she called on the authorities to take action.
“It’s quite horrible to read the news. We know as little as everyone else.
“There is a lot of uncertainty and even back in Ukraine there are those who are ignoring the threat and living life as normal and those who are worried and planning to leave,” she said.
What is happening in Ukraine and why?
Over the past two months the world has been on standby as more than 100,000 Russian troops have amassed along the Ukrainian border.
Moscow has repeatedly denied plans to invade Ukraine but the threat is being taken seriously by the rest of the world because Russia annexed Crimea – then part of Ukraine – in 2014.
The land grab was the largest in Europe since World War II and led to US and EU sanctions against Moscow.
Soon after the annexation of Crimea, Moscow began supporting pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine’s south-eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, a conflict which drags on until today and which has claimed the lives of almost 14,000 people.
Today’s escalation revolves around Russia insisting that Ukraine should not be allowed to join NATO, together with other security demands such as limiting NATO activity in Eastern Europe.
Despite several negotiations no agreements have been reached.
President Vladimir Putin has never been comfortable with Ukraine moving out of the Russian orbit and has repeatedly claimed that Russians and Ukrainians are “one people”.
Ukraine went through two revolutions, in 2005 and 2014, both times rejecting Russia’s dominance and moving towards closer ties with the European Union and NATO.
Both the United States and the European Union have stated that any Russian invasion of Ukraine would lead to “severe consequences” for Moscow, including new economic sanctions.