Anxious about wife's family caught in war

V.K. SANTOSH KUMAR

Dr Ashutosh Bhardwaj is deeply concerned about his wife's family in Ukraine.

He and his wife Iryna, who are Singapore residents, check on them every day, constantly worried by the Russian attacks on the city of Cherkassy where they live.

"We are shocked and stressed," Dr Bhardwaj, who works for an American company and sells its products in South-east Asia, told tabla!. "Every day they tell us that it could be our last communication as they are not sure if they will be alive tomorrow."

"It can happen that we will never see them again and my wife will never be able to smile again if the Russians kill her family and friends."

The 51-year-old is one among at least a dozen Indians based in Singapore who have Ukrainian spouses.

Their lives have become tense, following Russia's invasion of Ukraine on Feb 24 and the constant bombardment of cities and towns across the east European country.

"We are doing everything we can to help the people in Ukraine," said Ahmedabad-born Dr Bhardwaj, who has been living in Singapore for 11 years with Ms Iryna, 46, who was until recently head of business development at fintech platform Fave, and their daughter Reia, 13.

"We are buying all necessary items for civilians like blankets, clothes, baby powders and so on. They all are sitting in unheated bomb shelters, including newly-born babies."

The pair met in Cherkassy when Mrs Iryna was deputy director at the East European University of Economics and Management and he an employee.

"I have been to Ukraine 10 times and it is an amazing country of beautiful, talented and hardworking people," said Dr Bhardwaj. "They will always treat you with a smile and endless homemade dishes.

"This war has to be stopped. The brave Ukrainian people are defending not only their amazing country, but their freedom as well."

That sentiment is echoed by Mr Rahul Singh, an Ayodhya-born Singaporean bank employee who is married to former Ukrainian citizen Galyna Kogut, now a naturalised Singaporean and a National Institute of Education research fellow.

"The international community has condemned this invasion unequivocally," he said. "The war can only be resolved if Russia abides by international laws, respects Ukraine's territorial integrity and withdraws all its troops.

"As is already evident from the news pouring in, Ukrainians will not give up defending their territory. Even ordinary citizens have picked up weapons."

Dr Kogut's parents, brother, cousins, nephews and nieces are all in Ukraine and the couple are worried about how they will survive the current Russian onslaught.

"Nothing is safe in Ukraine now," said Mr Singh.

"There is bombing everywhere.

"Galyna's home city Vinnytsia, where her parents live, was badly bombed. We saw firing in Kyiv's Obolon district live on TV. That is where our home is. We don't even know if our building still exists."

The pair get in touch with Dr Kogut's family on and off as the Internet connection is intermittent.

"Several times a day they need to go into the bunker when air raid sirens blare," said Mr Singh.

"At those times, we do not even know if they are safe.

"It creates extreme anxiety when we are not able to stay in touch with them for a few hours at a stretch.

"Unfortunately, there is not much we can do. We feel very guilty even eating when we know fully well that they have difficulty even in accessing clean drinking water."

The couple are mobilising people globally to help during this "humanitarian crisis".

"We have called upon people to donate to UNICEF and Red Cross," said Mr Singh.

"We have also spoken to universities, corporations and organisations to provide whatever help they can."

Employment Pass holder Samit Chowdhury, who has been living in Singapore for the past six years with his Ukrainian wife and fitness trainer Natalia, too has made financial contributions to charities that are working to provide relief in Ukraine.

"Beyond that, whenever I speak to anyone, I make them aware of the human suffering in Ukraine," said Mr Chowdhury, 43, who grew up in Kolkata and works in the marketing field. "This makes the war real for everyone instead of just another headline in the news."

The couple are in touch on a hourly basis with 39-year-old Natalia's parents and other family members, who live in Lviv, a city near the Polish border.

"There are constant air sirens and they have to find shelter whenever that happens," said Mr Chowdhury.

"Despite that, none of Natalia's family or friends ( some of them live in Kyiv) have left their homes. They are all very active and engaged and determined to help their fellow Ukrainians as much as they can."

The couple's biggest fear is the safety of Natalia's family members. But they are also concerned about missiles hitting civilian areas.

"We are also worried about provocateurs who may not be dressed in military garb," said Mr Chowdhury.

santosh@sph.com.sg

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