Ukrainian nationals fleeing the violence in Libya have described to RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service a tense situation in the Mediterranean country, which has fully descended into the throes of civil war.
Twenty-five Ukrainian nationals, part of a larger group of 138 people, arrived early this morning in Kyiv on a plane from the capital Tripoli. Their flight had been delayed due to rain and chaos at the airport, caused by a massive uprising which has put Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s 41-year rule into jeopardy.
Qaddafi, currently the world’s longest-serving leader, has called the protesters “rats” and “cockroaches” and has sworn to die a “martyr” defending his rule.
On the evening of February 23, a plane departing from the Libyan capital landed at Moscow’s Domodedevo airport, carrying 20 Ukrainian citizens. According to the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, most of the Ukrainians living in Libya are medical personnel. Some 2,500 remain in the country.
Last year WikiLeaks revealed an embassy cable that claimed that Qaddafi relies on a team of Ukrainian nurses, one of whom, Galyna Kolotnytska, reportedly never leaves his side. The whereabouts of Kolotnytska, who has been described as blonde and voluptuous, is not known.
Eugene Shkrobot, a doctor in Tripoli who arrived in Moscow on February 23, said that the violence happened suddenly. “People began to come to the hospital: and the dead, with bullet wounds.”
The Ukrainian consulate in Tripoli had originally planned for Ukrainian nationals to depart on the evening of February 22. Flights did not leave until the next day. According to passengers, some Ukrainians living outside Tripoli were left behind in Libya, as they were unable to reach the airport due to military blockades established around the city.
“My friend who lives 150 to 200 kilometers from Tripoli called and cried saying that troops around the city would not let her pass,” said Roksolana Zapotichna, who arrived on the Kyiv flight.
According to the Ukrainian evacuees, the Tripoli airport was swarmed with some 10,000 people last night trying to escape from the war-torn country.
The returning Ukrainians described an anxious atmosphere in the country over the past week. Volodymyr Shevchenko, a doctor, said that Libyan medical colleagues were reluctant to discuss the country’s political situation with foreigners. “I was sitting in the doctors' room and suddenly the department chair walks in and gestures to me to leave. I understood that they were discussing the situation," Shevchenko said.
“Our paramedic, a local, had a windshield portrait of Qaddafi,” Shevchenko said. “He gently took it off. One can see that the people are waiting and watching.”
Svetlana Zapotichnoyi, another Ukrainian doctor, likened the mood to “talking about Stalin” during his reign over the Soviet Union.
Meanwhile, a member of the flight crew of the plane which landed in Kyiv, Yuri Melnikov, denied a Ukrainian newspaper report that Ukrainian mercenary pilots bombed protestors outside Tripoli. “This is nonsense,” he said.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Konstantin Gryschenko greeted the returning Ukrainians this morning at Borispol airport. He said that some Ukrainian doctors have decided to remain in Libya so as not to abandon their patients.