'Genuine fear': Aussie man sheltering in Ukraine reveals why he stayed

·Environment Editor
·4-min read

Raised in the NSW city of Newcastle, 25-year-old Yuri Totoev never expected to be armed and ready to defend Ukraine from invading Russians.

Sitting in his Kyiv apartment at 3am on Monday, Mr Totoev spoke with Yahoo News Australia about why he and his family have chosen to stay.

Fear is growing for many inside the capital, as friends in other parts of the country circulate videos showing atrocities committed by advancing Russians.

Yuri Totoev in his Kyiv apartment on Monday morning. Source: Supplied
Yuri Totoev in his Kyiv apartment on Monday morning. Source: Supplied

Despite the growing danger, Mr Totoev is feeling numb.

“I never expected in my life to actually live through something like this,” he said.

“It's the type of stuff you read about in books, you see in movies, but I guess nobody expects to actually live through it and actually see it happen.”

Ukraine saves a troubled boy from Newcastle

When war broke out Mr Totoev had been training to become a professional boxer.

He arrived in Kyiv in 2016 to live with his mother after falling in with “the wrong crowd” in Newcastle where he went to school.

“I just didn't see a future for myself there, like a healthy one,” he said.

“At first (the move) was for just maybe two or three months, but I've now had a long time to think about my life in general here, and I've reevaluated everything completely.”

Now Ukraine – the country that helped him find peace – is at war.

‘We’re getting bombarded’

As his countrymen continue to die, Mr Totoev remains disappointed by NATO’s lack of action to help Ukraine.

Russian forces have destroyed residential buildings across Ukraine and civilian casualties are growing. Source: Reuters
Russian forces have destroyed residential buildings across Ukraine and civilian casualties are growing. Source: Reuters

While Europe has supported the nation with with money and military equipment, he argues what is needed is help closing Ukraine's airspace to Russian missiles or planes.

"We're getting bombarded," he said.

“I believe they are simply scared of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s threats of nuclear weapons.

“But in the meantime, they’re committing war crimes here, they are targeting civilian places, apartment blocks, hospitals, children’s homes, old people’s homes.”

Kyiv unsafe as Russian forces invade Ukraine

With undercover Russian soldiers dressed in civilian clothes walking the streets, Kyiv remains unsafe.

Some local criminals have taken advantage of the instability, taking opportunities to rob shops, people and homes.

More than 1.5 million Ukrainians have fled the country. Source: Reuters
More than 1.5 million Ukrainians have fled the country. Source: Reuters

Walking through Kyiv on Sunday, Mr Totoev said the city appeared relatively unscathed compared with Kharkiv, Borodyanka and Mykolaiv.

Despite this, the nights are filled with danger.

Air raid sirens can be heard every night, and Mr Totoev is ready at a moment’s notice to take shelter in an underground car park should missile fire become too close.

“You never know where it's gonna hit,” he said.

“A few nights ago, I was sitting in my kitchen… and I noticed a really, really bright light outside the window.

“(Then) I heard two massive explosions. It's the first time during this conflict that I’ve genuinely felt fear inside, because I felt the vibration go through my legs.”

A toast to peace in Ukraine

Most of Mr Totoev's family have moved to the outskirts of the city, but his younger sister insists on staying, and he’s determined to protect her.

He’s confident his fellow Ukrainians will be able to repel the Russians and he won’t face enemy fire, but he’s willing to use his weapon if forced.

While Ukraine's soldiers have been aided by foreign money, Mr Totoev wants NATO to help close airspace over the country. Source: Getty
While Ukraine's soldiers have been aided by foreign money, Mr Totoev wants NATO to help close airspace over the country. Source: Getty

“I'm not gonna go personally run and fight a tank,” he said.

“My priority right now is to look after my sister, her safety is my number one priority whilst we're here.”

To his friends and family back home in Australia he urges them to be thankful to be living in peace.

“When my grandparents were alive… they would always toast for peace and to make sure there would be no war,” he said.

“That would be the number one toast: no war.

“Because they are the generation that actually lived through war, and they knew the truth of the true atrocities which are committed and the casualties.”

Do you have a story tip? Email: newsroomau@yahoonews.com.

You can also follow us on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter and download the Yahoo News app from the App Store or Google Play.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting