Many Are Cold, but Few Are Frozen

David Lawrence's personal blog

To Leave or Not to Leave

When my wife and I argue, we usually stick to common themes: Who’s going to clean the kitchen? How much time should the kids spend playing video games? Are we saving enough for college? Boring stuff. Every family in America bickers in the same way.

But we’re not in the States. I’m an American based in Kyiv, where I live with my Ukrainian wife and our two kids. Life here is tense: after months of protests, Ukrainians overthrew their corrupt government and rejected Putin’s Eurasian customs union. In response, Russia seized Crimea and has gathered its armies on Ukraine’s borders. It is positioned to take eastern and southern Ukraine, which would secure both Crimea and Transnistria, the Russian-controlled sliver of Moldova running along our western border. Kiev would be a tempting prize. 

Many friends have urged us to get out. I understand and appreciate that. We’ve all heard stories about people who fled Russia just before the Bolshevik revolution, or from Poland before the Holocaust. I’ve always imagined those refugees had some special insight that told them exactly when they should pack up and go. 

But I never gave much thought about it. Until now. How did they decide when to run?

Last night my wife and I argued about how and when to escape if Russia sweeps across the country, Genghis-style. If it were up to her, we’d be heading to the airport now. Her first choice would be the States, though other countries would do. Friends have offered us havens in Turkey, Great Britain, and Austria.

But I don’t want to go. I’m not convinced Putin will risk a full-blown invasion. And if he does, I don’t want to be stuck on roads clogged with refugees or on a plane where trigger-happy Russian MiGs might be waiting. I think we’d be safer at home with a good supply of food, water, and fully-charged devices. I also hate the idea of being uprooted. Will looters break into our apartment while we’re away? Will my kids have to repeat a grade at school? And what will we do with my daughter’s hamster? Besides, everything in Kiev is still running normally: shops, transportation, the Internet, even school.

But there’s more to it than inconvenience: I can’t leave my Ukrainian in-laws behind. They don’t have the same options we have. How could we pack up and leave, saying, “Well, things are getting hot so we’re outta here. Sorry you can’t come along. And by the way, could you pay our utility bills while we’re away?” I would be ashamed to abandon them. If we have to run, I would rather join them and drive to western Ukraine, where they have extended family.

The time for analyzing is coming to an end. With Crimea voting to join Russia, and provocateurs inciting violence is eastern Ukrainian cities, Putin could invade at any moment. We’ve gathered up our passports, important documents, and some money. An emergency suitcase is packed and ready to go. I’m scanning documents and stashing them away in the Cloud. 

If Russian forces approach Kyiv, we’ll bolt by whatever means we can. I just hope, for my daughter’s sake, that we will be able to take the hamster with us. My wife thinks I’m nuts. “I can’t believe we’re even talking about this,” she said.