How did Ukrainians in Estonia see the start of Russia's war with Ukraine?

The protest for Ukraine drew thousands of people to Freedom Square on February 26, 2022.
The protest for Ukraine drew thousands of people to Freedom Square on February 26, 2022. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

In the early hours of February 24, Russia invaded Ukraine having spent months massing troops on the border and saying no invasion was planned. Ukrainians living in Estonia told ETV+'s weekly show "Insight" how they and their loved ones reacted to the outbreak of war in their homeland.

"Insight" is produced and broadcast by ERR's Russian language service. Three Ukrainians living in Estonia were interviewed for the program, which was broadcast on Saturday evening, Vladislav Ivantsok, Dmitri Leljuk and Valeria Litovchenko.

Watch the broadcast, in Russian with Estonian subtitles, here


"I was asleep. It started at four in the morning. My sister called me in tears and told me that Russia had launched a major invasion of Ukraine. I woke up immediately. I was shocked, not knowing what to do. The first thing I did was call my mother and father," said Vladislav Ivantsok, who comes from Chernihiv in northern Ukraine.

Valeria Litovchenko, from Kyiv, woke up later than usual due to the national holiday. "I looked at my phone, there were a million messages from friends and acquaintances. And Mom had written: "We have explosions here, but we're fine."

Dmitri Leljuk was told the news by his brother.

Ivantsok moved to Estonia 18 months ago and founded a recruitment agency. He works with Leljuk who moved here last year.

"I came here to change something, to leave my comfort zone. After living here for a while, I realized that there is a [different] perspective here," Leljuk told "Insight".

Litovchenko came to study at Tallinn University of Technology six years ago and then stayed on to work. She plans to return to Ukraine one day.

But now their plans, dreams and hopes have gone up in smoke. The only thing they can think about is the war and how to help their loved ones who are close to the epicenter.

Speaking about that morning, Litovchenko said: "The first few hours were spent calling friends and parents and trying to understand what was going on. Trying to gather my thoughts. Deciding what to do."

Explaining his family's situation, Ivantsok said: "My grandmother is currently in a school bomb shelter, my uncle is sitting in the basement. They have no food or anything. I'm not thinking about plans [for the future] right now, but all of this."

Leljuk said his relatives have stayed put in Chernihiv and do not want to leave. "Before this, the neighbors didn't communicate much with each other, but when the war broke out, they joined forces, tidied up the basement and turned it into a bomb shelter."

Ivantsok's grandparents, sister and her children tried to leave the country on the first day of the war. His father stayed in Kyiv. Ivantsok said the queues at the borders to Poland, Hungary, Romania and Moldova are huge and people have nowhere to sleep and there is no food.

Litovchenko's parents stayed in Kyiv despite pleas to leave. "It's their life, their home. They don't want to leave it," she said.

Ivantsok and Leljuk want to return to Ukraine to fight but do not know how.

"We wanted to go to defend our hometown. We are currently thinking about what to do, but initially, we can only help with information and money," Ivantsok said.

Leljuk said he is looking for a way to reach his hometown and wants to defend his city.

Litovchenko is volunteering to help the relief efforts: "I will help my country as much as I can: with money, with information - with everything I can."

Ukrainians are not the only community feeling this way. Russian troops stationed in Belarus have been allowed to cross the border into Ukraine and Belarusians have been protesting the war too.

Alexei moved to Estonia from Minsk a year ago and works in IT. His mom wrote to him on the morning of February 24 to tell him the news.

He said that after leader Alexander Lukashenko's violent crackdown in 2020, he thought he could not be surprised by anything he was.

"I was wrong, I couldn't be fully prepared for that. I'm ashamed that we didn't have the strength to anticipate it in 2020," Alexei said.

So far, more than 1 million people have fled Ukraine since the outbreak of war. Several thousand displaced people have made their way to Estonia.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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