Love has driven a British man to brave Russia’s invasion and travel through Ukraine to protect his family.
As the conflict began, it had been a month since 28-year-old Ian Umney last hugged his Ukrainian wife and son.
With conditions across the country increasingly unsafe, he packed a bag on February 27 (local time) and left the safety of Manchester and flew into Krakow, Poland.
“I didn't have much of a solid plan,” he told Yahoo News Australia.
“Things could have gone very wrong.”
Stopped by security as he enters Ukraine
As thousands of people fled into Poland, Mr Umney headed in the opposite direction, over the border into Ukraine.
“I met these people who were trying to ferry people out of the country and soldiers into the country," he said.
“They dropped me off in Lviv and within half an hour I was stopped by a civil patrol who questioned me, and they took my documents.”
When he was stopped, Mr Umney had been live-streaming his journey on TikTok and he was told to put down his phone.
Things immediately felt “a bit hairy”, but the confrontation ended once security understood he was on a mission to reach his family.
Love of family inspires Ukrainians to support man's journey
With the country facing escalating violence, Mr Umney’s love-motivated journey was a breath of fresh air to many. Strangers have been quick to offer him help.
Millions of TikTok users also followed Mr Umney as he documented his travels across the country.
“Amazing” is how he describes the support of people both on and offline.
“People come over here for different reasons, but mine as a father and as a husband was 100 per cent love,” he said.
“I needed to be here to protect them and the love of other people supporting me has given me more and more confidence to get here.”
Moment British man embraces Ukrainian family again
Leaving Lviv on February 28, Mr Umney embarked on an 11-hour-train-journey to southeast Ukraine.
Reaching his family on Tuesday (local time), he took a tender moment to embrace them and admits tears began to flow.
“It was amazing. They came downstairs and met me,” he said.
“My son gave me a big smile and a big hug and it was lovely.”
'Signs of war are here'
Mr Umney's separation from his family was triggered by visa-related issues, and while the UK government has now relaxed restrictions for Ukrainian citizens due to the conflict, their future remains uncertain.
Despite having seen little of the violence that has impacted many parts of the country, there are constant reminders of the conflict, even in the southeast town he is now in.
“The signs of war are here, but for the most part people seem to be going about their daily lives,” he said.
“Buses are running, taxis are going, people are going to the shops."
Our phone call is abruptly ended mid-sentence.
Text messages and calls go unanswered. Then a voice message lights up the phone.
“I’ve just been approached by a soldier and he’s checking my documents, so stand by,” Mr Umney can be heard saying.
‘Here to defend. I'm not here to babysit’
Resuming the call moments later, Mr Umney confirmed that ideally he would like to get his family out of the country.
The situation could change at any moment though and if the conflict was to suddenly escalate it could be safer to stay. That would mean taking up arms.
“I’m here to defend. I'm not here to babysit,” he said.
“I know it may sound a bit strong, but either the first option is we get out, or the second option is we stay here, but I defend the city."
Call for Western leaders to help Ukraine
Back home, an hour after our interview, Mr Umney was working to blackout his windows should the city be invaded.
Earlier he considered what message he would send to Western leaders watching the war from afar.
"I hope you're safe in your home," he said.
"I hope that your family are safe in your home."
With civilians dying in other parts of the country, Mr Umney wants world leaders to consider the "human factor" of war.
"We need more help to evacuate people, and also help to defend the country," he said.
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