A terrified dad who was preparing to flee Ukraine as it teeters on the brink of war with Russia is staying put – despite UK Government warnings to leave.
Former Helensburgh man Stuart McKenzie had frankly packed up his car and filled it with fuel ready for a desperate 10-hour drive with wife Lena, 49, and their two sons, aged 15 and 12, for safety in Poland.
It came as UK nationals were told by the Foreign Office on Friday to “leave now while commercial means are still available” amid warnings Russia could attack “very, very quickly”.
On Saturday, Stuart, 51, told our sister paper the Sunday Mail he was getting ready to flee along with many of the 6000 Brits living in Ukraine as tensions heightened.
But today (Monday) the businessman told the Lennox Herald the family had decided to stay put, saying: “Ukraine has been my home for 28 years and we want to stand by the people here, not run away from the bully in the schoolyard. ”
He also told how the journey would have meant leaving behind his wife’s elderly mother, who they had arranged care for.
His insistence to stay put were despite warnings from armed forces minister James Heappey that bombs could land on Ukrainian cities within “minutes” of Russian president Vladimir Putin giving an invasion order.
He said: “My fear is it [an invasion] is very imminent, that’s not to say it’s definitely going to happen.
“This is a warning because minutes after Putin gives the order, missiles and bombs could be landing on Ukrainian cities.”
As the Lennox went to press, he urged all those who remain in the country to “leave now” after thousands were warned it may be impossible to escape amid rumors Ukraine’s airspace will be closed within days.
But Stuart, who led a march of other expats in Kyiv to protest against the Russian military action a week last Sunday, said they were staying put for now.
I have commented: “It’s been an emotional rollercoaster.
“Leaving our home was a decision we didn’t want to make.
“We were hoping the Biden-Putin conversation on Saturday might create some sort of miracle, but it didn’t so we packed our bags ready to leave and filled the car with fuel.
“We didn’t sleep very well and got up early on Sunday.
“My wife turned to me and said ‘I can’t go’ – we just couldn’t do it.”
Stuart also told how he didn’t want to leave behind his brother and his children.
He said: “We’ve had support of thousands of friends and have our staff here.
“Ukraine is our home and the people here have been so kind to us.
“They stick together and help each other out.
“We think it’s unlikely Kyiv is going to be a big danger zone. Things are calm. People are trying to get by and live their normal day to day lives.
“We run a business with 20 staff over here.
“My wife has gone into work while I look after the kids as their school is shut. I’ll be going in later on today.”
Stuart, who is the stepson of late showbiz legend Jimmy Logan, emigrated from Helensburgh in 1994 and first worked importing Scottish products like whisky, oatcakes and shortbread.
He now runs a healthcare and natural products business and sells his goods around the world.
Stuart told how the family is assessing the situation hour by hour.
He said: “If it escalates there could be a million cars on the road racing for the border.
“There’s a multitude of things which could happen.
“It’s not like we’re in denial for what could happen but it would take more than this.
“We’re just trying to keep calm but we don’t think we’re in a situation now where we have to leave.
“We’re hopeful for continued dialogue and discussion.”
Russia annexed the Crimea region of Ukraine eight years ago after being unhappy at the former Soviet State plans to get closer to the West.
Defense Secretary Ben Wallace has said an invasion could come “at any time.”
And US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said an attack before the end of the Winter Olympics on February 20 is a “credible prospect.”
Western leaders have threatened Moscow with a damaging package of sanctions in the event of a further incursion into Ukrainian soil.