The majority of expatriates abandoned Ukraine and left for their countries of origin in the first months of war. But some of them never left the country, not even during the worst moments of the invasion. Others came back soon after having left.
The decision to stay surprised not only their compatriots, but also many Ukrainians, who often asked their foreign friends why they chose to stay. We asked five foreign residents in Odesa from different countries three questions:
- Why did you decide to stay in Ukraine during this period of war, notwithstanding the danger
- Aren’t you scared?
- What are the most frequent questions asked by your compatriots and others?
Their answers are as follows:
Pierluigi Curti, Italian lawyer, living in Kyiv for seven years
1. On the morning of the Russian attack, Feb. 24,  I was in Italy. I had returned a few days before to visit my family and I had a flight back to Kyiv on the 26th. Late in the evening of the 23rd I saw Putin’s speech and from there I understood that what we all thought, but didn’t want to believe, was about to happen. So, I stayed up all night watching Telegram. When I saw that all my friends from Kyiv were online, I asked them what was happening and they confirmed that the invasion had begun. It was a difficult situation for me. Even though I hadn’t had the intention of escaping, I was comfortable in my home while my friends were under bombing, with the Russians at the gates. I felt like a deserter, even though it wasn’t my fault. For this reason, I decided to return as soon as possible. The first possible return was on the occasion of the reopening of the Italian embassy in Kyiv, on April 16, 2022, which allowed me to tell my family that it meant there was a higher level of security. I decided to return to Ukraine because I thought it was right. They often ask me: what’s the point of being under bombing? Because if the Ukrainians have to deal with it, we can too. Because it’s not right to stay in Kyiv when everything is okay and leave when there are troubles. This is what I thought at the time and what I think today.
2. No, I’m not scared. I’m at home in Ukraine.
3. They frequently ask me: when will it be over? Does everything work (electricity, internet, telephone, etc.)? How is life with curfew?
Boris Jean Leon Rincourt, French businessman, organizer of wine & art events in Ukraine.
1. I lived 23 years in Paris and now already 7-8 years in Odesa. I’m very happy and I feel good in this city, a kind of freedom that we lost in Europe and in France, so I could not leave the country. I tried again one month in Paris, but it is unreal for me now! For sure the danger is here, but in life you get used to everything…
2. Rarely, but few times yes. For sure I felt not good during the night. In the morning it was okay!
3. Yes, usually people are asking me how I can stay in Ukraine now. What do you like so much here to be so crazy or careless? I told them I love the humor, the people, the architecture, gastronomy, the French and Italian history of Odesa, the freedom, the possibilities in life here!
Michael Löffler, German founder of OCCAM Labs dealing with Artificial Intelligence, based in Odesa.
1. We had been in Germany for about the first half year of the war, when it wasn’t clear how the situation would develop, and then decided to return. Odesa is the place, where me and my family feel at home. Odesa itself is not on the front lines, there is no random artillery shelling and a good warning system for rocket attacks is in place. So, it’s a calculated risk that we are ready to take by staying here, in order to be home.
2. Whenever there are alerts, the first thing we do is check according telegram channels for information about the cause for the alert. When you know what’s going on, it’s already less scary, because you can act accordingly. In case of alerts, it’s quite often not directly the city, but rather parts of the Odesa region, that are attacked. When there are drones sent to attack the city, the air defense nowadays works really well on them and has a near 100 percent success rate. What remains scary is when certain types of missiles are flying towards the city, which are hard to shoot down and have a large warhead. That’s also the times, when we head for some nearby bunker. Fortunately, we have one just across the street.
Thomas Sillesen, Danish founder of Akkerman Engineering Solutions, with a branch in Odesa, where the staff are Ukrainians, helping mostly clients in Denmark and EU.
1. I was away till June 2022. But I felt it was waste of time, to stay in Denmark, instead of being at work in Odesa. I came back in June 2022. I believe as leader of my company, I should lead my staff by showing a good example and enduring what my staff has to endure.
2. No. If I’m asked about the experience of working under the constant risk of air attack, I answer: I’m not scared.
3. [My compatriots] only ask me how my business is going, and it is going well.
Kevin McGeeney, English teacher in Odesa from Texas, USA
1. I decided to stay in the war in Ukraine because I had been living in Ukraine for three years at the start of the war. I’m a former US Marine and I’ve come to love the Ukrainian people and I want to support Ukraine during this time of war.
2. No, I’m not scared. I feel like God has placed me here and I’m not leaving.
3. Yes. Any time I meet a Ukrainian they question me why I am here during the war. They also question why I don’t speak Russian or Ukrainian after all this time and I explain that Russian and Ukrainian are difficult for me to learn.
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