War at home makes allies of strangers among Ukrainians in Thailand

Ukranians gathered to protest in front of the Russian Embassy in late February. Photo: Nicky Tanskul
Ukranians gathered to protest in front of the Russian Embassy in late February. Photo: Nicky Tanskul

Andrii Novak remembers flying to sunny Phuket, away from the cold winter of his home in the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol. He planned a few weeks enjoying the weather, the beach, and the gym.

That was in January. Now, six weeks into Russia’s invasion of his homeland, the 31-year-old software engineer is sourcing tourniquets to ship back home to keep his compatriots from bleeding out on the battlefield. His hometown has been devastated by a relentless Russian assault.

“For the past few weeks, I’ve been doing things I never did before,” Novak said.

Talia Maliovana, a yoga instructor who fell in love with Bangkok and has lived here eight years, said few of the Ukrainians in Thailand knew each other prior to the war. Now, they stand united under a common cause.

“We basically connected to each other via Facebook and found a community,” Maliovana told Coconuts. “Before this, I didn’t meet many Ukrainians, but when the war started, we decided that we needed to do something together.”

Ukrainian activists gather Thursday afternoon st the Pullman Hotel G in Bangkok. Photo: Nicky Tanskul / Coconuts

On Thursday, Malionova and other vacationers and expats turned activists hosted a Bangkok media event where they opened video links back home for reporters to talk directly to Ukrainians involved in wartime defense or volunteer operations.

From a doctor in Mariupol and Kharkiv volunteer to a reservist aiding the defense of Kyiv, the event placed the calls to people back home who shared stories of atrocities committed by – as they were labeled in a video presentation – “Russian fascists.”

One of those was Natallia Yakovleva, an elderly woman who spoke from the city of Kharkiv, surrounded by rubble under a cold gray sky. She described how once-routine greetings have taken on new meaning amid so much violence.

“Now, ‘How are you?’ is a symbol of life,” Yakoveleva, who appeared visibly frightened, told those gathered at the Pullman Bangkok Hotel G. She worries most about her grandchildren.

Oleksii Vasylevskyi, a reservist in Kyiv, said he started producing armor vests for soldiers after being turned away from the front lines due to inexperience.

“Fifty percent of soldiers have vests, while the other 50 don’r even have warm clothes to keep themselves from the rain.”

Evgeniy Moiseev, a volunteer worker not far from the besieged western city of Lviv, recounted his efforts helping refugees and transporting orphans out of Kharkiv. 

“His team is also working with psychologists right now to mentally help refugees with trauma,” Maliovana said, translating. “Some of them are crying, living in basements for weeks hiding from bombs.”

Over in Mariupol, physician Elizar Grankov described the ruin that has befallen her coastal city on the Sea of Azov. 

“At this moment, I hear sirens outside. This is the new kind of reality,” she said.

Ukrainian diplomat says no Thai volunteers in warzone

Malionova acknowledged how the war has brought together the loosely affiliated diaspora into an organized group.

“I think it’s a good example that we are here to get together and organize to tell people what is happening in Ukraine on a larger scale,” she said.

Novak shared the same sentiment. 

“It feels amazing,” he said. “If you need to talk to the president, it would take only a few days to find his contact because everyone has the same purpose – to save Ukraine and help others.”

Russia insists that its full-scale invasion amounts to nothing more than a security operation to root out “Nazi” elements across the border and “demilitarize” Ukraine. As of Wednesday, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said it had proof of 1,232 Ukrainian civilian deaths since the invasion began, though it believes the real number to be much higher. Of those, 112 were children.

Nickolay Boichuk, who was present with Malionova and Novak at protests outside the Russian Embassy, has lent a hand to humanitarian efforts and charity events.

The 30-year-old said he had never seen the invasion coming.

“I didn’t think it was possible. When we were talking about these things at first, we saw it as just some political game,” he said, reflecting the skepticism many Ukrainians had about a Russian invasion. “On a scale like this, the whole world is shaking now.”

Anguish, anger as Ukrainians in Bangkok protest Russian invasion of homeland (Photos)

He too, had not met many Ukrainians but is now regularly in touch with them, sharing updates in Whatsapp and Telegram chats.

“My family refuses to leave, my grandparents have been building their homes for their whole life,” he said.

Asked why they haven’t packed up to go home and fight, Malionova and Novak looked perplexed.

“There is one part of me that is angry, I want to get up and fight,” Malionova said. “But another part of me is logical – I’m not a fighter. It’s suicide.”

She said she can do more good raising money.

“If I go back home, I would just be sitting in a bomb shelter,” she said.

“Every Ukrainian that cannot take up arms are now volunteering,” she added. “Everyone in my family is donating money, sending food to those who fight.”

But the Ukrainians gathered yesterday said Thais have been very generous with their help.

Thais put money – and even lives – on the line for Ukraine

As for what he will do once the war is over, Novak had a ready response.

“I would go back to Kyiv, see my friends and family and hug everyone,” he said. “I never thought I would ever want to go back home that much until now.”

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