Many Vietnamese people who are returning to Ukraine months after fleeing the fighting are now learning to adapt to the warzone.
After nearly seven months of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, Kyiv announced that it had recaptured some cities previously occupied by Russian troops, and many people who fled to Europe, including Vietnamese, are now returning.
Phong*, 45, a businessman, is one of them.
He returned to Kyiv a few weeks ago.
The first thing he did was to visit his family’s motel on the outskirts of the city, which had been under Russian control.
He says: “When I visited it, I saw it had been damaged by firing. All the houses on that street had their roofs blown off or the walls damaged or windows broken.”
His property had not been hit by rockets, which had however fallen 30-40 meters away, and the explosions had shattered glass windows and left shrapnel holes all over the walls. Neighboring houses were all damaged, some completely destroyed.
“I saw remnants of the conflict. Before that these areas had been beautiful and modern satellite cities of Kyiv. But now there are almost no houses left intact.”
Bridges to the city were destroyed to prevent Russian tanks from entering. There are black burn marks and tank tracks on roads.
Though repaired, traces of the conflict can still be seen on streets.
Ninh*, a businessman, had asked his friends to repair his burnt house in Kyiv before returning to Ukraine. He is back at his old job and has changed many habits to adapt to a new life after the conflict.
He says: “The Russian troops attacked Gostomel airport, and then the conflict took place there for about a month, damaging a lot of houses in the area. My house was damaged by artillery shells. But it is a conflict, and I have to accept it. I also have to adapt to some changes, such as curfews and sirens.”
He provides support to the Ukrainian armed forces and buys things for people who lost their houses in the conflict. “Volunteer groups are very active. Goods and aid from Europe are pouring into Ukraine. There is almost no one suffering from hunger here.”
Truc, 46, is luckier than Phong and Ninh: His house escaped damage.
“On the way back to Kyiv I thought it would be very different compared to before. When I entered Kyiv, I burst into tears because I saw very little damage, and things had recovered. I saw crowds of people and a peaceful atmosphere.”
He says though Kyiv is almost intact, the surrounding areas are badly damaged.
“If there is no aid or support from other countries, no one knows how long it will take for these areas to be restored.”
He has reopened his store in a market, and selling goods as usual.
“The goods in my store were untouched. No one broke in or stole anything. People coming to the market are less picky than before, and that is better for my business.”
Phong says things are gradually returning to normal though people are afraid of unexpected conflicts.
“Gasoline is a little more expensive than before the conflict. However, there is no rationing of gasoline any more. Previously a person could only buy 10-20 liters at a time.”
Phong says when there is a risk of an attack, the government will sound sirens and notify the public on mobile phones. TV channels run announcements about possible attacks.
There are landmines around Kyiv now, and so the army does not allow people to enter those areas.
When authorities detonate landmines, they warn people in advance.
“At the entrance to main streets, there are guard posts, sandbags or concrete block houses. A curfew is still in place from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. During that time no one except state officials is allowed to go out.”
Asked about the reason for returning, Vietnamese say they consider Ukraine their second homeland after living there for years.
Ninh says he returned to work with others to help the country recover and cope with the aftermath and pay his employees their salaries.
“I did not think about threats when I came back. I have been living here for 35 years, and it is a part of me now. I consider Ukraine my homeland.”
Phong says he came back because it is not possible for people his age to live in another European country.
“If I move to another country, I have to learn foreign languages and adapt to a totally new life. I cannot give up what I spent decades building here. So I decided to return.”
Russia now occupies around a fifth of Ukraine, including much of the southern provinces of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Sept. 4 warned of a difficult winter because of energy shortages.
Speaking after a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in the Uzbek city of Samarkand on Sept 16, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow was in no hurry in Ukraine, and Russia would respond more forcefully if its troops were put under further pressure.
*Names in the article are changed.
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