‘I’m afraid Russia will invade us next’: alarm among Ukraine’s neighbours (2023)

As fighting continues in Ukraine after Russia’s invasion, people have been fleeing to neighbouring countries.

The Guardian spoke to people living in countries near Ukraine about the situation, how they feel about their own safety and what it might mean for them.

‘My heart breaks’

When the invasion happened on Thursday morning I burst into tears, then I contacted my family in Lithuania. It felt like it was 13 January, all over again, when the Soviet Union attacked us on in 1991, when Lithuania was trying for independence. I was a teenager then and it was like a nightmare, horror, the sound of guns – but it also brought Lithuanians closer together.

My father is Ukrainian. He is part of the older generation, who thought that the west was making up stories about the Russian invasion. My mum says he stopped watching the Russian news after the invasion.

We have family in Ukraine and are ready to welcome them to Lithuania or Brussels, where I am now living. After not hearing from my cousin, for a day, we got a message telling us that the Russian army was not far away and they were ready to fight till the end against the invasion. His son is in the Ukrainian army. I am afraid for their lives. My heart breaks.

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I am afraid that Russia will invade Lithuania as well. And nobody will move a finger for us as we are so small. I pray it will not spread, because being independent matters. Kotryna, 45, from Lithuania and working in Brussels

‘We’re anxious Putin might cut off the gas and oil supply’

‘I’m afraid Russia will invade us next’: alarm among Ukraine’s neighbours (1)

The mood in Poland I think is generally good – no one is scared because I don’t think anyone really believes that Russia will try to attack a Nato member state. I am angry and frustrated about what is happening.

There is a lot of solidarity with Ukraine and a lot of us know someone from there. I took part in a protest on Thursday showing my support, and we’ve been trying to arrange donations.

We don’t think Putin will attack our country but we are anxious he might cut off the gas and oil supply. It’s the economic effect that is worrying people which is why some have started trying to stock up. Igor Dudkiewicz, 23, law student, Poznań, Poland

‘Is your country going to be the next target?’

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I felt very anxious when I heard about the invasion. I felt this rush of adrenaline and I just don’t know whatwould happen next. I felt like the people responsible for the invasion are completely insane. I couldn’t think of any proper justification for it. Ukraine is a country that has a similar culture to Slovakia and you begin to worry that what’s going on over there is going to come here. Is your country going to be the next target?

What worries me is that in Slovakia there are a lot of people who would like to step out of Nato. Recently we had a survey and about 40% of Slovaks felt that the US and Nato were responsible for the rising tensions in Ukraine.

I worry that there are a lot of people who may feel that this conflict is legitimate and caused by Nato and not by Russia, which of course is the utmost lie, but I don’t know how to counteract that. Michaela, 23, student, from Slovakia and living in London

‘We’ve already made plans about where we will go if we are attacked’

‘I’m afraid Russia will invade us next’: alarm among Ukraine’s neighbours (2)

We’re all quite stressed. I skipped school today because the situation is quite hard to deal with. I’ll be back on Monday but on Thursday it was too much hearing talk about Russia possibly attacking us.

Before, we were scared to speak our minds because we were worried about being attacked, but we’ve realised that the Russian regime is not as powerful as it seemed. Latvia is a Nato member state and it would protect us if anything happened.

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Both of my parents are in the military and I’m quite scared of losing them. I text my father constantly to ask how he’s doing and we watch the news all the time. Our government has said there is nothing to worry about but it doesn’t stop the panic.

We haven’t packed any emergency bags yet but we’ve made plans about where we will go in Latvia – a place where there is food and water reserves, and is not near any military bases.

Since 2008 when Russia invaded Georgia, we’ve understood that as long as Putin is in power in Russia there will always be a threat to us. At the time my dad packed his bags and was ready for army mobilisation. That was when we decided to make plans in case anything happens in Latvia. Elza, 18, student, Ogre, Latvia

‘We have been afraid this could happen, and now it has’

Most people in the Baltics have been very depressed for the last two days. There’s a deep sense of pain as we have been afraid this could happen and now it has.

Most people want to stay optimistic and don’t want to plan for a war, however we have started discussing as a family where we would go if we needed to leave. It’s created a lot of uncertainty and some people are considering stocking up on food, at the same time many are level-headed and not massively panicking.

I feel like the west’s answer has been too weak for Russians and it’s time for the rest of Europe to get uncomfortable. The leaders in the west are being too slow in understanding the full horror of what is happening.

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There is nothing really connecting us to Russia apart from our border. People in the Baltics have moved on from the Soviet era. We are hopeful and happy in Estonia that we have Nato membership, but at the same time we’re still uncertain as to whether they will really help us if anything happens. Tiiu-Ann, 37, production designer, Tallinn, Estonia

‘I’m not sure about anything now’

‘I’m afraid Russia will invade us next’: alarm among Ukraine’s neighbours (3)

I think we’re all a bit nervous. I’m not panicking but I don’t feel safe and I sometimes think about how me and my husband can prepare for war here in Poland. On Thursday, there were queues at the cash machines in my home town. There’s been something in the air for a while so over time we have collected some food, like rice and beans, water, money and petrol and I’m considering different scenarios just in case.

I think if something happens our plan is to stay here as this is where my family lives, and where we have food and shelter. If we were to leave we would have nothing and have to depend on others to help us. When I think about the future I’m not sure about anything now. All I do know is that I wouldn’t believe anything Putin says.

Some of my friends are a bit disappointed that Poland hasn’t done more to help Ukraine. But maybe we see it in a different way because of our history, when Germany invaded Poland in 1939 and we were left on our own with no help. Urszula Drabińska, 36, editor and proofreader, Wołomin, Poland

‘I’m prepared to enrol in the army if my country needs me’

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I’m part Ukrainian, my grandfather was from there. I was brought up in Romania but I feel a lot of sympathy for the Ukrainians. What Putin is doing is unforgivable, but the EU’s response to his actions is pretty surprising. Why does no one help Ukraine? Why just sanctions? I feel like Putin will get what he wants and go even further, because no one is stopping him. I worry that he will not stop at Ukraine’s borders.

With the humanitarian situation, I am proud that we are willing to take in refugees from Ukraine. I think we’re prepared to take about 500,000 of them. I felt really angry when I heard about the invasion and I’m prepared to enrol in the army if my country needs me. Mihai, 22, student, Romania


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