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Victoria man makes 'final trip' back to Ukraine as Russian invasion encroaches

“There’s a chance I will not get to see my friends after I leave. This might be our final visit,” said Stanley Osobik, who moved to Canada in 2001.
Victoria lawyer Stanley Osobik, 53, who travelled to Ukraine to help friends and family, took this selfie when meeting his 23-year-old niece Anastasia for the very first time in Lviv, Ukraine, on Saturday, March 12, 2022. STANLEY OSOBIK

Before the ravages of war claim the Ukrainian city of Lviv, where Stanley Osobik spent 15 years before emigrating to Canada, the Victoria lawyer jumped on a plane to say what he imagines could be his final goodbyes.

Russia’s encroaching battlefield, with missiles exploding close to where he once lived, was alarming for 53-year-old Osobik, who arrived in Lviv on Monday after crossing the Polish- Ukrainian border by bus.

More than 30 missile strikes killed 35 civilians on Sunday morning at a Ukrainian military training base northwest of the city. At least 134 were injured in the attack, regional governor Maksym Kozytskyy said.

“I’ve never seen my city like this,” said Osobik, whose wife and three children stayed behind in Victoria while he ventured back to his home country after taking leave from work.

“As the battlefield moves further and further west, armed individuals are barricading almost every village and major intersection of highway. Peaceful civilians are getting in the way. We are hearing the rockets.”

Osobik returned to the war-torn country to see longtime friends and family, many of whom have remained resolute in deciding to stay and join Ukraine’s resistance movement.

“There’s a chance I will not get to see my friends after I leave. This might be our final visit,” said Osobik, who emigrated to Canada in 2001.

While goodbyes have been exchanged, Osobik said his first hello to the daughter of his sister, his 23-year-old niece Anastasia. He said he offered to help his sister escape, but she turned him down. “Their life is anchored too deeply in Ukraine. We’re hoping that my niece will be able to take shelter in Poland or Canada.”

More than two weeks since the war in Ukraine began, millions of people in that country have fled their homes and thousands have been killed.

Osobik said as soon as he met one friend for coffee, he was asked for help translating instructions on foreign military equipment provided to Ukrainian forces. “Everybody is running around like crazy — things need to get done.”

Osobik has also been connected, through friends in B.C., to an 11-year-old Canadian who is stuck in Lviv with her uncle and grandparents. Her parents, who live in Calgary, have asked him to bring her back to Canada, Osobik said.

He said it took eight days to get legal consent from the Canadian consulate to escort the girl to Canada. The pair have flights booked for March 22.

“I’m trying to be as useful as I can while I’m here,” Osobik said. “I’m ready to fight in the resistance forces but not just anybody can do that. You can’t just pick up a knife — there is a process that includes having legal status in Ukraine. I am a Canadian citizen and have to return to work soon.”