By Felix Hoske and Maria Tsvetkova
KYIV (Reuters) – Out of seven countries 45-year-old British businessman Daniel Williams has lived in, Ukraine seemed to him the most welcoming one.
Two years ago, he settled with his Ukrainian wife in an upscale Kyiv neighborhood, full of fancy restaurants and bars, and had a baby girl, who is now three-and-a-half months old.
Last week, like all British citizens in Ukraine, he was strongly advised by his government to leave immediately “while commercial means are still available” and not to count on any help with evacuation “in the event of a Russian military incursion.”
While Russia denies it plans an offensive, Western countries accuse Moscow of preparing an intervention by massing over 100,000 troops near the Ukrainian border.
Williams took the advice to leave seriously, but was loathe to uproot his family unnecessarily. He said his evacuation plans would depend on the scale of a possible conflict.
“If there is an invasion, is it a small incursion in east Ukraine? Or are they going full-scale invasion of Ukraine trying to take the capital of Kyiv?” Williams wondered in an interview with Reuters. If it were the latter, he said, he was certain about one thing.
“In which case, obviously, I definitely don’t want to be in Kyiv.”
For now, the Williams family has packed suitcases ready to depart for a trip to the western part of the country at a moment’s notice, with “a plan in place” to leave Ukraine through nearby Poland in case of a war and if direct routes to Britain were cut off.
Most Western countries have advised their nationals to leave Ukraine immediately or cancel plans of travelling there. Many have pulled out diplomats. [L8N2UR2K8]
Some countries, including Britain and the United States, relocated embassy staff from Kyiv to Lviv in western Ukraine, further away from borders with Russia.
As of Wednesday, most airlines kept scheduled flights to Ukraine, though some had to move planes abroad upon requests from their owners or insurers due to increased military risks.
“The advice is to leave Ukraine, but that’s not practical for people like me and others who have families, jobs, investments and properties, and things here,” Williams said in his house after zipping-up one of bags with plush toys for his baby Sophia.
Williams said he would be sorry to leave Ukraine, which he said was the country in which he “has been most welcomed and felt most at home” by far.
He recalled receiving a friend from Britain in Kyiv recently and enjoying nice food and by Western standards cheap drinks in pavement cafes.
“It was like being in Paris without, you know, without the expense and the cost. It’s a beautiful city,” Williams said.
Russia said on Wednesday that some of its troops were returning to their permanent locations for the second consecutive day after drills near the Ukrainian borders, but NATO said the build-up was ongoing.
Williams said that “in an ideal world” he would prefer to stay.
“I love this country. I love the people here. We were very, very happy here. And yeah, if Russians go back to base, we’ll carry on being very happy here.”
(Reporting by Felix Hoske, writing by Maria Tsvetkova; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel)