Former Abbotsford man Curtis Nikkel and his family have made it safely to Moldova.
The family are currently staying with friends in Chisinau after about a 20-hour wait at the Ukraine-Moldova border over the weekend.
Nikkel said it was heart-breaking to see two families in a row split up as border guards adhered to government measures banning Ukrainian men aged 18 to 60 from leaving the country and being urged to join the army.
As a Canadian citizen, Nikkel is not legally required to remain behind.
He said he and his wife Liza are awaiting answers on their kids’ travel documents and then plan to make the 20-hour drive to Warsaw, Poland in the next day or two.
A former Abbotsford man living in Ukraine is fleeing with his family to neighbouring Moldova in hopes of being able to safely return to Canada following the Russian invasion.
Curtis Nikkel, his wife Liza and their two kids – Diana, 12, and Daniel, six months – left their apartment in Kryvyi Rih at about 3 p.m. Thursday local time (1 a.m. Friday in Ukraine) and began the almost 600-kilometre drive to the west.
Nikkel, an English teacher and tutor, said they left with only what they could pack in a couple of suitcases.
“I decided that I had to protect my family and just leave everything behind,” he said through Facebook messages with The Abbotsford News. “It’s been extremely nerve-racking and stressful. I don’t remember ever having such a strong sense of panic and stress in my whole life.”
Nikkel was born and raised in Abbotsford. He travelled to Ukraine in 2006 to do missionary work with children in orphanages.
While visiting different schools to speak English with students, he met Liza, a teacher. He has been there ever since, but his dad and two of his brothers still live in Abbotsford.
Another brother, Adam, who also lives in Ukraine with his wife and two kids, has decided to remain in place for now.
Nikkel said since the war in eastern Ukraine in 2014, resulting in Russia invading and annexing Crimea, the citizens have become used to having “the presence of an oppressor and aggressor country” next to them.
But they were not prepared for a full-scale invasion, instead expecting that Russia would take over the two eastern provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk.
“We never thought it would go this bad. It’s absolutely insane to think that two days ago we woke up early morning to reports of ballistic missile attacks all over the country,” Nikkel said.
He said Kryvyi Rih was relatively unscathed when they fled – one or two missiles had hit a military site on the outskirts of the city – but chaos erupted in other ways.
“People started to panic and go to the supermarkets and hoard food, and go to all the bank machines and take out all the cash that they could, and go to all the drugstores to get medicine and also gas stations to get gas. Most things were running short on supply,” Nikkel said.
A video taken by Adam as Nikkel drives shows the massive lineups for gas in Kryvyi Rih following the Russian invasion (story continues below):
The family has contacts in Moldova who have offered their help. From there, they hope to travel to Poland or Hungary while they complete their son’s passport and Canadian citizenship applications in order to get to Abbotsford.
Nikkel said his daughter is a “strong little girl” who is handling the situation “quite well, given the circumstances.”
He wants Canadians to know that “things are happening for real, and that people are very afraid,” and he urges those who want to help to donate to causes in support of Ukraine.
The Red Cross has launched a Ukraine Humanitarian Crisis Appeal. Donations can be made at redcross.ca.