One man’s mission to save his family and help others – POLITICO

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KRYVYI RIH, Ukraine — Vladislav Guristrimba woke up in his home in Zoloche, an upscale dormitory community in Kiev, on Thursday to explosions: terrifying flashes of light followed seconds later by thunderous explosions as a Russian missile barrage was hitting targets near the main airport in the Ukrainian capital, Boryspil.

By Saturday, Guristrimba, who owns a lingerie manufacturing business, was on the road with his wife, Dariya, and their six-year-old twin sons. The family was fleeing south in their Porsche Cayenne SUV. In Sokryany, a town near the border with Moldova, they met Dariya’s parents, who had driven north from Odessa on the Black Sea.

Because Guristrimba, 48, has five children, he is not subject to military conscription which applies to all Ukrainian men under 60. He could have crossed the border safely. Instead, he turned back, determined to help people fleeing the war, many of whom were driving west from Kharkiv, Kiev and other cities under bombardment but without a destination or a plan – as well as to save more of his own relatives.

Guristrimba’s father-in-law drove him back to Letychiv, where his company, Memème Fashion, has a small factory. A colleague quickly transformed an office, which normally serves as a corporate museum filled with photos and awards, into a boarding house.

Letychiv is located on a main east-west highway, in a no man’s land between the towns of Vinnytsia and Khmelnytskyi. Often motorists arrive exhausted, in need of food and a place to sleep.

Guristrimba settled for the day at a roadside restaurant, where he asked families with out-of-town license plates where they were going and if they needed help.

Work on the many contacts on your iPhone, Guristrimba helped them plot escape routes, trying to avoid traffic and backups at congested checkpoints, and plotting to bypass long queues at various border crossings.

“I help people to leave Kyiv, to leave Dnipro, to leave Kharkiv and to go to Moldova, to go to Poland,” Guristrimba said. “I’ve talked to a lot of people who were on the freeway in the restaurant…People just come somewhere they don’t know.”

Guristrimba described his evacuation assistance efforts at a hotel in Kryvyi Rih, central Ukraine, where he had spent the night while traveling east – the opposite direction from those who are fleeing. He was heading for his home town of Dnipro, where his Mother, ex-wife, son and 70-year-old brother all live. His plan was to evacuate them and their families – eight people in total.

The mission is urgent. Russia intensifies its aerial bombardment campaign and pushes hard in its quest to capture Ukrainian territory east of the Dnieper. If Russian forces succeed in encircling Ukrainian troops in the eastern Donbass region, they will turn to Dnipro as their next likely target.

“I have to move them,” Guristrimba said.

Guristrimba said he secured a safe house in Kropyvnytskyi, about 250 kilometers west of Dnipro, to spend the first night of their trip, although in reality no house is safe in Ukraine these days. this. On Tuesday, Russian planes bombed Kropyvnytskyi airport.

“Tomorrow we will move them to Kropyvnytskyi – maybe,” Guristrimba said. “Maybe. It depends. You know, the news every day, you see the news, you see the situation and the decision changes immediately.

Uncertainty is a challenge. Another will convince his mother to leave his hometown. It’s the same dilemma faced by thousands of Ukrainian families as they debate whether to stay or go and the head-spinning questions the discussion entails. If they go, then where? Will it be safer or more dangerous on the open road? Where are the Russians? What will they do if – or rather when – they arrive?

Contemplating what the future might hold for us is nearly impossible.

Guristrimba’s situation illustrates how professionals in urban, globally connected Kyiv suddenly found themselves thrust into scenes that seem to come out of the pages of World War II history books – hiding in bomb shelters under -ground, helping to build roadblocks against tanks, packing emergency supplies, and fleeing as refugees of war, but with the modern essentials of cell phones, tablets, and laptops in tow .

Guristrimba was not supposed to be in Kiev when the war started. His company held a big show at the Javits Convention Center in New York. The company, which has 50 employees, sells its underwear in 30 countries around the world.

Even during the pandemic, Guristrimba traveled to the United States five times for work. His vaccination certificates were issued by the CVS drugstore chain – his first dose in New Jersey; the second in Los Angeles. Her eldest daughter lives in Chicago. Until last week, her twin sons attended an international school in Kyiv, where they studied in English.

Guristrimba’s wife, who works in luxury tourism, is using her own professional contacts to try to find accommodation for Ukrainian war refugees in neighboring countries.

As with so many others, the idea of ​​a major war in Europe in 2022 seems absurd to Guristrimba. “You know, in 1940 – Hitler – it was a great idea for a lot of people. He inspired a lot of people – a real idea, fascism. It was a bad idea but it was real. Now only Putin and his men on TV believe in that idea, everybody, they just don’t understand what’s going on.

Guristrimba’s helping instinct is nothing new. When Russia annexed Crimea to Ukraine in 2014, Guristrimba said he drove his Range Rover to the area, loaded with food, toilet paper and other supplies for Ukrainian military personnel trapped on their bases by invading Russian forces wearing insignia-less uniforms.

“I’m not going to fight, because I’m not a soldier,” he said. “My value is as a manager. I can be a manager in a military system or a volunteer system.”

He said he had made it known that he was available for evacuation consultations. “If anyone needs help, I’m here. I can help,” he said. “I worked two nights and one day without stopping.” Three families stayed in his makeshift guesthouse the first night. A small bus of children is expected to arrive from Kharkiv on Tuesday.

Whatever Vladimir Putin thinks, he said, even if the Russian president captures territory, it will never work, he said. Ukrainians will not give up their desire for democracy.

“You can’t occupy minds”, Guristrimba said.

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