Scots dad in Ukraine frantically packs bags and flees with young family as Russia tensions rise

Stuart McKenzie and his family frankly packed their bags last night for a desperate 10-hour road trip to escape Ukraine.

They shoved as much as they could into bags and filled up the car as war with Russia looked just days away.

Most of what they own will be left in their home in the capital Kyiv when Scott, 51, Ukrainian wife Lena, 49, and their two sons set off this morning for safety in Poland.

It came as crunch talks last night between US president Joe Biden and Russian leader Vladimir Putin ended with American warning they will “respond decisively and impose swift and severe costs” if an invasion goes ahead.

Stuart McKenzie with wife Elena
Stuart McKenzie with wife Elena

The crisis escalated yesterday when it emerged US intelligence agencies believe the Kremlin may order strikes on Kyiv with an invasion as soon as Wednesday.

And UK Armed Forces minister James Heappey warned Russia is in a position to be able to attack “very, very quickly”, with an estimated 130,000 troops on Ukraine’s border.

Stuart told the Sunday Mail: “It is a crazy situation that we have to leave our own home because of threats from another country.

“We are packing the suitcases as we speak. I don’t want to be on the wrong side of any evacuation chaos. Hopefully we have not left it too late.”

It is believed many of the 6000 Brits living in Ukraine have already fled the country while some have stayed, stocking up on food and fuel in case war does break out.

They are reacting to a dramatic British Foreign Office appeal for all British passport holders to evacuate immediately amid fears of war with Russia.

The family will seek refuge in Poland
The family will seek refuge in Poland

And Brits were warned not to expect military help to escape Ukraine if war breaks out.

Last Sunday, Stuart led a march of other expats in Kyiv to protest against the Russian military action.

But as tensions heightened this week, he has decided the country is now too dangerous for his family.

The international school where sons, Robert, 15, and Stuart, 12, attend has closed after their teachers were told to leave.

Stuart said he is not only concerned for the safety of his family but also the possibility that he may not be able to access money from cash machines or fuel once hostilities break out.

He added: “The threat has been notched up a few levels in the last 24 hours, that is for sure.

“When we were told by our embassy to leave, we really had no option. I will be a lot happier once we get to the border.

“Our one hope is that it is over quickly and we can then drive back to Kyiv and return to our home.”

Stuart faces a six-hour drive to the Ukrainian-Polish border and then a further four hours to Krakow.

Because his wife Lena does not have an up-to-date UK visa, he has decided to remain in Europe.

Edinburgh-born Stuart emigrated from Helensburgh, Argyll 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.

His factory and business is also near Krakow and he plans to stay in a hotel over the next few weeks until the picture becomes clearer.

Stuart, who is the stepson of late showbiz legend Jimmy Logan, will be joined in the convoy by other members of their family and some of his Kyiv staff.

He said all their vehicles are equipped with food, water and gerry cans of fuel.

He added that it could be chaos if they decide to leave at the same time and worries the numbers could rise to a million if they are joined by fleeing Ukranians.

Last night, the White House account of the crisis called between Biden and Putin warned an attack would “diminish Russia’s standing” as the West pinned hopes on diplomacy to avert war.

They were said to have spoken for about an hour after French President Emmanuel Macron also shared a call with Putin with fears of an imminent attack heightening.

The White House said: “President Biden was clear that, if Russia undertakes a further invasion of Ukraine, the United States together with our allies and partners will respond decisively and impose swift and severe costs on Russia.

“President Biden reiterated that a further Russian invasion of Ukraine would produce widespread human suffering and diminish Russia’s standing.”

Biden told the Russian leader that the US and allies are prepared to engage in diplomacy but are “equally prepared for other scenarios”, the White House said.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said she discussed her “acute concerns” that Russia “may launch further military aggression against Ukraine in coming days” during a call yesterday with US secretary of state Antony Blinken.

“We agree Russia will face massive consequences for any invasion, including severe sanctions,” she said.

Defense Secretary Ben Wallace has said an invasion could come “at any time”, while 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.

Ukraine is not a Nato member and allies in the defense alliance have said they would not join fighting in Ukraine but have bolstered forces in neighboring nations and are threatening widespread sanctions.

Though the Kremlin insists it is not planning an invasion, US intelligence suggests Russia could fabricate a “false flag” pretext to attack.

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.

Meanwhile, more than 5,000 people marched in Kyiv yesterday in defiance against Russia and carrying banners vowing “Ukraine will resist.”

Traffic in the city ground to a halt as the anti-war rally snaked its way from Shevchenko Park to the historic Maidan Square, birthplace of the 2014 revolution.

Protesters of all ages draped in yellow and blue Ukrainian flags chanted “Ukraine, united, will never be defeated” and one banner described Russian leader Putin as a “mass murderer” and a “war criminal”.

Another said simply “#sayNOtoPutin”.

Leading the march, Illia Kononov of the Capitulation Resistance Movement, said: “So many people have turned out to show their support for Ukraine and to tell the world that we don’t want war, but if it comes – we will fight back.

“We also want to thank all the countries such as the UK which have supported us morally and given us weapons to deter the Russians.

“Personally, I don’t think Putin will invade, but if he does, he should know that Ukraine will fight to the last man and woman.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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