• Trevor Greenway

Chelseaites talk ‘terrible’ Ukraine ordeal

Oksana Babiy goes to bed every night hoping that Russian soldiers haven’t destroyed her father’s Ukrainian village. By morning, she’s scouring the news to see what has transpired overnight.


“My first thing I do when I wake up, at 7 a.m. or earlier, I grab my cellphone, I grab my iPad trying to see what happened and whether the area is affected,” Babiy told the Low Down from her Chelsea home. “This is my life now. This is where I’m glued.”

Ivan Babiy picks some grapes in his garden in a small town just outside of Chernihiv, Ukraine. Photo courtesy Oksana Babiy

Oksana’s 79-year-old father, Ivan Babiy, lives in a small town near Chernihiv, about 150 kilometres northeast of Kyiv, where some of the most intense fighting has occurred. Her dad and his neighbours spent the first few days of the war sheltering in basement cellars as air raid sirens blasted day and night, warning civilians of imminent airstrikes. Most residents have emergency bags packed by the door in case they have to leave in haste.


“The first days, where they are, they heard a lot of air sirens because there are lots of planes going in to bomb Kyiv with rockets from the Belarusian side,” added Oksana. “They hear it all the time. Several times a day.”


While the intensity of fighting near Chernihiv has eased over the past several weeks, things weren’t as calm when the war first broke out in late February. Villagers could hear Russian tanks and heavy machinery rolling in from Belarus, and once the bombing began, keeping in touch with loved ones became difficult.


“It was terrible,” said Oksana. “During that time, we couldn’t connect [to my father]. We usually connect with him almost every day, and we couldn’t connect. We were going crazy. We were so stressed. We were trying to reach relatives in Belarus. I was trying to reach my friends in Kyiv, trying to find out because sometimes you don’t know.


“The situation right now — we know it’s not stable, but at least it’s moving very slowly. But during the first two weeks, there was lots of action – bombings, airplanes, tank attacks and everything – so you just don’t know.”


It turned out that they couldn’t connect to her father because of a poor phone connection, but disruptions such as this are becoming a regular occurrence for residents. It’s even worse for those in bigger cities like Chernihiv and Kyiv, where many have no power, water or food. Oksana’s father owns an apartment in Chernihiv and spent several days in early March contacting neighbours to see if it was still standing after the neighbourhood was bombed.


And for all that Oksana and her husband Richard Mischook, who is also Ukrainian, are going through, they say it’s nothing compared to what Ukrainians on the ground are facing.


Sitting in their Chelsea home with the Ukrainian flag’s bold blue and yellow dancing with the wind’s sporadic beat outside, Oksana and Mischook recount the tragic anecdotes from those on the frontlines: the family friend who was forced to bury his own wife in his yard after their home was bombed while he was delivering milk to neighbours; Oksana’s close friends who have escaped the fighting in Kyiv to France and other countries; the Ukrainian villagers, who have witnessed Russian soldiers trading in their uniforms for food. It’s stories like these that remind the Chelsea couple just how proud they are to be Ukrainian.


“Her father is able to survive because they have a culture of surviving,” added Mischook. “It goes back hundreds of years. They’ve been attacked by the Russians before; they know what it’s all about.”


“I have a job, I have a roof, I have food in my house,” added Oksana. “We are living in paradise compared to that hell that is being created in Ukraine.”


Oksana grew up in Chernihiv before moving to Chelsea in the year 2000, when she met her husband. She’s lived in the Hills ever since and hasn’t been back to her homeland since 2017. She said she knows just how resilient Ukrainian people are and she’s confident that she’ll be able to see her father again soon.


“I am 100 per cent sure Ukraine is going to win, but at what cost?” she said.