KYIV (Reuters) – Nataliya Poshyvaylo-Towler, an Australian mother-of-two of Ukrainian descent, found out her son had tested positive for COVID-19 at the worst possible moment.
They were preparing to fly last week from Ukraine to Melbourne, where they live, after receiving an advisory from Australian authorities that citizens should immediately leave Ukraine over fears a Russian invasion could be imminent.
To board a plane back, Nataliya needed to complete a declaration form and show a negative COVID-19 test.
“I’m looking at the email with results and there’s an email coming from DFAT (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade) – ‘evacuate now’. And the result is positive,” Nataliya recalled in an interview with Reuters.
“My legs started shaking, I didn’t know what to do,” she said.
Nataliya and her son Michael had to miss the Feb. 9 flight and remain in Poltava, a town 300 kilometres (185 miles) to the south-east of capital Kyiv. They stayed with Nataliya’s parents, who they had been visiting for Orthodox Christmas.
Russia denies planning to invade its neighbour. This week it said it was pulling back some of the more than 100,000 troops it had massed near the frontier and on Thursday it said some had returned to base. NATO says Russia is not withdrawing, but appears to be sending in more forces.
Nataliya’s fears rose when some media reported an invasion could begin on Feb. 16. She looked for bomb shelters on a map of her hometown.
“My son is asking ‘Mum, why were you looking at these bomb shelters?’ That was hard,” she said.
Nataliya told Reuters that she didn’t expect the Australian government to bend the rules for her and her family, however.
“Probably designing those rules, they didn’t think about situations like mine, you know, the possible war conflict.”
Nataliya and her son are now booked on a flight back for Sunday. She is looking forward to reuniting with her family in Melbourne, but still fears for Ukraine, where she was born.
“So hopefully… I can fly, and be back home, dreaming of coming back to Ukraine. Because I love my country, and I stand with her.
“COVID is not that bad compared with other problems (that) can happen with your country,” she said.
(Reporting by Lisa Keddie and Hannah Ellison, editing by Maria Tsvetkova and Rosalba O’Brien)