By Todd Ruiz and Nicky Tanskul
“Hands off Ukraine,” dozens of angry protesters, including Thai and Ukrainian nationals, are chanting early Friday afternoon just outside the Russian embassy in Bangkok’s Silom area.
About 40 people had assembled by 1:15pm, where they expressed anger at Russia, fear for their families back home, and hope the international community would intervene.
“My whole family lives in Ukraine, and they are very scared of [the] situation, and they have to hide from Russia’s bombs,” said Julia Bykova, who moved from Kyiv to Bangkok about a year ago.
She said Russia’s pretext for the war, the fictional persecution of Ukraine’s Russian-speaking population, has quickly melted.
“This is insane, Russia said they are going to save Russian people in Donbas, but it’s not only Donbas anymore, it is whole Ukraine. They want just to kill, they want to get our freedom,” she said, pausing as a mix of anger and anguish overwhelmed her. “It is very hard to speak because yesterday i saw the bombs exploding over Kyiv, where i lived before i came to Bangkok.”
Nickolay Boichuk, a 30-year-old Ukrainian who has lived 10 years in Bangkok, said it was a “devastating and terrifying” situation.
“I couldn’t believe that it could happen. It’s pretty much unbelievable, in this time, in this year. Innocent people [are] dying. There is no justice,” he said. “I’m standing here, only thoughts on my mind are about my family, my friends.”
With Russian forces advancing on his hometown in southeastern Ukraine, Andrey was brooding 7,000 kilometers away last night in Phra Khanong, where he spoke in Russian to his mother over the phone.
He regretted not taking the threat of invasion seriously and wished he had pushed harder for his mom to join him in Bangkok. But the whole thing was an unbelievable farce, he said, up until Russian President Vladimir Putin gave a rambling speech Tuesday night filled with grievances, concocted historical fantasies, and a narrative that Russian-speaking Ukrainians such as his family were being victimized.
“The pretext to all this happening is genocide of Russian people,” he said last night, hours after Russia launched its invasion of his homeland. “But I am Russian. There is no genocide.”
He declined to give his family name.
His mother is just north of the Black Sea in a town called Melitopol, once considered Ukraine’s gateway to Crimea. It sits along European route E105 between Moscow and Crimea and the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. Most people there speak Russian and have no history of conflict with their fellow Ukrainians because, Andrey said, no divisions existed until they were invented by Moscow.
“People speak Russian there. There are Russian-speakers in the west, and Ukrainian speakers in the east,” he added.
Ukraine’s government has said Russian forces advancing on the capital from Crimea would meet resistance in Melitopol. Around the time Andrey spoke to his mother, large explosions were seen at an air base there.
Attempts to reach Ukraine’s top diplomat in Thailand, Pavlo Orel, were unsuccessful Friday morning. The embassy announced last night that ties had been severed with Russia in response to “the invasion of Russian Armed Forces to destroy the Ukrainian state and the seizure by force of Ukrainian territories with the intent of establishing occupation control.”
Ukraine hasn’t had a full ambassador to Thailand since the last, Andrii Beshta, collapsed and died of heart failure on Koh Lipe last May at 44 after six years at his post.
Putin has promised to wage a limited conflict that spared civilians to “demilitarize” the neighboring country and protect Russian separatists.
While Singapore and Indonesia have condemned the invasion, Thailand’s government has remained silent so far.
Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly identified Nickolay Boichuk as Mykola Boichuk.