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Former Valley resident describes fleeing Kyiv amid Russian attacks

Germany Russia Ukraine War
Posted at 4:51 AM, Mar 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-04 07:31:02-05

Since the Russian invasion began last week, more than one million people have fled from Ukraine, according to data from the United Nations.

Roughly half of those refugees have gone west to neighboring Poland, including Grady Andersen, a man originally from the Phoenix area who had been living in Kyiv.

Although he's physically okay and now in Warsaw, he told ABC15 about his traumatizing and stressful journey to get out of Ukraine.

On the morning of Feb. 24, Andersen said he awoke to the sound of sirens and explosions.

"I still wasn't really believing that Russia would really send troops into Ukraine," Andersen said. "I was shocked by the missile strikes, but still [thought], okay that's as far as they're going to go, and then just each day it escalated more and more."

He said the situation got serious and dangerous quickly, although it wasn't the threat of getting hurt that made him decide to leave.

"It's not the danger of the explosions or the threat of troops in Kyiv that made me leave," he said. "That's not the kind of thing that scared me, like, the threat of being hurt in one of these types of attacks. Really, the threat is living under Russian occupation."

Andersen said he's from the Phoenix area and graduated from high school in Surprise but came to Ukraine several years ago for a different way of life and new business opportunities.

He had no intention of leaving the country and had even been helping to feed Ukrainian defensemen in the parks near his home in Kyiv after the attacks began.

Four days into the Russian invasion, he said that all changed.

"I had a feeling," he said. "I feel like things are going to continue to get worse."

But getting out of Kyiv, and ultimately the country would prove to be anything but easy.

"Once the first train arrived, it was crazy," he said. "People were stepping on each other, pulling each other down."

After confusion, chaos, and several trains, he eventually made it out of Kyiv and into a smaller city near the Moldovan and Romanian borders.

Getting a train from there wasn't any easier, but he eventually made it to Lviv, where he said an American non-profit organization helped him get a bus ticket heading to Warsaw in a few days.

Despite it all, Andersen said he wants to go back to Kyiv if Ukraine wins.

"I love Ukraine," he said. "Ukraine is one of the coolest countries that I've been able to visit and live in."

He now has plans to head to the country of Georgia next week, where he'll stay for the next six to 12 months and see what happens.

Before the war, Andersen said he wasn’t even anti-Russia.

“After I’ve seen how they've handled the invasion of Ukraine, all of my respect for the Russian Government has gone away,” he said. “They're destroying museums, bombing historical buildings, taking out historical administrative buildings, and I believe they're doing that to make it easier to absorb the country, culturally, and they don't care with how many people that hurt to do that.”

Andersen said for the people back here in the Valley who may feel helpless with what's going on thousands of miles away, there are ways to help.

He suggested donating to non-profit organizations helping people on the ground in Ukraine and refugees who have left or are trying to leave. He also said Ukraine is looking for people with military experience to join them and help them fight for their freedom.