From Wall Street to war zone: Invasion traps New York programmer far from pregnant wife

Ukrainian men aged 18-60 barred from leaving and expected to join fight against Russia

Vitalii Khatiushyn’s phone is full of his New York City life: photos of his pregnant wife Katerina and their cat in their apartment on Roosevelt Island; a scan of the baby they are expecting in early May; views of the Manhattan skyline from his Wall Street office, and records of routes that he runs through Central Park.

And then there is the fateful plane ticket that brought him to Ukraine just three days before Russia invaded, and the return leg that went unused as war engulfed the country, all flights were cancelled and he focussed on evacuating his parents to the European Union.

His mother, who is recovering from cancer, and his father are now safe in Lithuania, but Khatiushyn (35) is trapped as fighting rages in Ukraine and all men aged between 18-60 are barred from leaving the country and expected to take up arms against the invader.

The software engineer wants to help Ukraine but believes he can do it best by raising funds and mobilising support at home in New York, where Katerina (33) is expecting their first child in two months’ time and now wonders when he will return from a nation that Russia seems intent on destroying.


"This is the most painful thing, to see her crying every day, and she can't sleep properly because of everything that's happening; I'm not there and her parents are still in Kryvyi Rih," says Khatiushyn, referring to the southeastern industrial city where Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy grew up.

“There are fears that Russia will hit it really hard because it’s his hometown.”

The couple’s life, until now a very Ukrainian success story, has been upended with that of the entire nation by a brutal Russian attack that has killed thousands of civilians and driven some two million abroad.

Khatiushyn is the son of a metalworker from Mariupol, a hardscrabble port on the Azov Sea where hundreds of thousands of people have been trapped for a week without power, running water or phone or internet links, as Russia has bombarded the city and scuppered attempts to evacuate residents.


He left home to study in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second city and a major centre for education, engineering and culture, where apartment blocks and university buildings now lie in ruins after the Kremlin’s onslaught.

“We moved to Denver, Colorado in 2011 after I was offered a job there. But Katerina and I discussed whether to leave Kharkiv or not. If we had stayed, we would probably have been living now in a district that has been heavily shelled,” he says.

“It’s so horrible to see what has happened to Kharkiv. We know all those places and all those destroyed buildings.”

Khatiushyn flew to Ukraine to treat his parents to a week in Kyiv because travel would be difficult after the baby arrived.

"Like most people I thought it was all bluff," he says of rising tension before Russian president Vladimir Putin declared war.

“There were some bad signs – my flight here was cancelled, but it was easy to change. It was my father’s first time in Kyiv, and he enjoyed it and thought it was beautiful. Then my wife called in the early hours of February 24th [when Russian attacked]. She was freaking out, and we could hear explosions in the distance and had to figure out what to do.”

Khatiushyn managed to get his mother, who has just finished chemotherapy, and his father to Poland and then Lithuania, where they are staying with relatives.

“That’s the one good thing that came out of this. I can’t imagine them being there now in Mariupol and being unable to contact them.”

He travelled to the border with Moldova to try to leave Ukraine, but was turned back under the terms of martial law and full military mobilisation that were introduced to help the country of 41 million hold off the huge Russian army.

“For now, I can work remotely to pay the rent in New York and everything else. But the money I’m spending on accommodation here could go the Ukrainian army,” explains Khatiushyn.

“If I was in New York, I could bring in tonnes of money and support for Ukraine – that’s my skill and it’s what a lot of Ukrainians abroad are doing. I could do so much more to help Ukraine if I was there.”

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe