From Ukraine to Bulgaria: Pair of Belogour workers evacuated to safety ahead of Russian onslaught | Local News
When the Vermont News & Media owner was evacuating his Ukrainian employees to Bulgaria, Ivan Sonin and his wife were among those who escaped before the February 24 Russian invasion.
Sonin, 32, is the head of software development for Boston Unisoft Technology, a web development company owned by Paul Belogour, which also owns Banner, Brattleboro Reformer and Manchester Journal.
Belogour has offices in Sofia and Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria, and Sonin is in Sophia, staying in an apartment through Airbnb.
Sonin is one of many who left Ukraine before the fighting started; the United Nations reports that an additional 2 million people have since fled, and the number is growing every day. Sonin left his hometown of Dnipro on February 15, just days before the conflict began.
He and his wife, Anastasia Sonina, 31, a project manager at Unisoft in Boston, brought little with them, packing as if they were leaving for a short time.
“Clothes, a laptop, nothing special, like a regular trip,” Sonin said. The husband and wife are hopeful but do not know when they will be able to return home.
They flew to Istanbul and then Bulgaria, noting that the pre-war flight was quiet, as no one really expected an invasion.
In Bulgaria, Ukrainians are gathering and connecting virtually, Sonin said, and people are posting information about where to stay, jobs and even financial aid. He noted that most of the evacuees were going to Poland.
The local residents of Sophia make him and his wife feel comfortable in their temporary home.
“People try to help as much as they can. Even offer free parking for Ukrainian cars,” Sonin said.
Of Belogour’s 30 employees in Ukraine, Sonin was one of five to be fired before the war. Meanwhile, many of Sonin’s friends remain in Ukraine.
“Some of them move to western Ukraine, some stay in Dnipro, some go to the army,” he said.
Prior to his departure, the Ukrainian army began to equip citizens with weapons and military equipment. Sonin said that was not the only option for his compatriots.
“In Dnipro you can now buy any kind of weapons on your own. This is the first option,” Sonin said.
A second option is to join the Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces. Sonin said a colleague of his tried to do so but refused.
“Because they first take people who have lived through eight years of war in Donbass, and that number is around 300,000 to 400,000 in Ukraine,” Sonin said. The Donbass War erupted in 2014, with Russian-backed separatists opposing Ukrainians in eastern Ukraine killing more than 14,000 people.
Whether the Ukrainian army and militias are enough to repel their forces, Sonin said, “is a complicated question,” and that the Ukrainians will make the best of the situation.
Reports from the house in Dnipro indicate that there was no interference with electricity, heating, running water and internet. The fighting is still about 100 kilometers away, Sonin said, and life goes on there as usual, except for the occasional air raid siren and the run to a bomb shelter.
Russians and Ukrainians are often closely related by blood, but not so much ideologically, the web developer noted. Sonin has an aunt, uncle and cousin in Russia, and he said, “They totally support the war.
Her father was born in Russia, but emigrated to Ukraine after the collapse of the Soviet Union. For Sonin, the war does not look like a civil war, despite the close ties.
“No, we are totally different,” Sonin said. This divergence began in 2004 with the Orange Revolution protests and political rallies, “and now we have a totally different way of thinking.”
Away from home, Sonin and the other evacuees got little sleep upon arrival, regularly watching the news. Now, after two weeks of war, the news has become painfully repetitive.
“Now not so many changes every day. We watch the news in the morning and hope that one day we will see that it is all over,” he said.