HALIFAX – A Canadian attempting to drive Ukrainians displaced by the war to safety says Russian shelling has trapped him in the city of Chernihiv for three days as food and water supplies dwindle.
Speaking Friday from a bomb shelter in the badly damaged city in northern Ukraine, Lex Brukovskiy said he feels the shelling is an immoral tactic targeting innocent people trying to escape the conflict.
“It’s dirty. It’s unfair because what the Russian army is doing is just taking civilians hostage,” said Brukovskiy, a lobster fisherman from Nova Scotia who travelled to his native Ukraine to offer help two weeks ago. “They’re not fighting army with army. They’re setting their army against regular people.”
He is driving a van with about a dozen passengers, including women, children and the elderly, that is part of a humanitarian convoy trying to ferry people to safety in the western part of the country.
Brukovskiy told The Canadian Press there is a limited supply of food and water in the city and the heating and electricity don’t work.
He said shelling has destroyed a key bridge leading out of Chernihiv, adding that other routes fill up rapidly with convoys of refugees attempting to flee whenever the shelling briefly subsides.
Whenever there is a lull in the bombardment, Brukovskiy’s convoy attempts to load the refugees, who are waiting in a shelter, but the missiles and bombs have resumed, targeting roads and bridges, he said.
“I have a van full of the elderly, women and kids who are now crying whenever they get in and out (of the vehicle). It’s hard to run back and forth from the shelter to the van,” he said.
The lobster harvester raised money for humanitarian aid and left his fishing boat in Meteghan, N.S., two weeks ago to come to Ukraine – a country where he spent his childhood and where most of his family lives.
He said the situation for residents of the city is growing increasingly desperate after a month of attacks.
“We’re stuck. We don’t know what to do,” he said in an interview. “We’re hoping for the best. We’re hoping somebody will negotiate some kind of corridor for us, or send some military to help us get out.”
Roughly half the population left in the first weeks of attacks on the city, Brukovskiy said, and there were routes that people could drive on.
Now, he says people aren’t able to leave to the west due to the destruction and the shelling of the bridges. People he’s encountered have said they don’t want to go east, towards Russia.
“Hope is all we have left. There’s not much else we can do but hope for the best,” he said. “But it’s cold here. There’s no heat, no electricity, there’s hardly any water. Water supplies are very limited.
“In addition to sitting in the dark, now people don’t know how long their food supply will last, or their water supply.”
Brukovskiy’s crowdfunding page has been raising money to bring supplies to people fleeing war, and he says he encourages Canadians to continue donating to Ukrainian and humanitarian organizations to assist people who have lost their homes and livelihoods.
In the Nova Scotia legislature on Friday, Ronnie LeBlanc, the member for the riding of Clare, where Brukovskiy lives, rose to pay tribute to the fisherman’s efforts in Ukraine and the more than $20,000 in donations he has already raised.
“I also ask all members of the Nova Scotia legislature to join me in honouring Lex and all those people who went to Ukraine to make a difference in the lives of Ukrainians,” LeBlanc said.
Brukovskiy said if he manages to bring his group to safety, he will keep trying to make similar journeys.
“I’m doing what I came here to do,” he said. “If I can get out of here soon enough, we’ll regroup and try and get here again. There’s a lot of people trying to get out who can’t.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 25, 2022.
– With files from Keith Doucette