From blockchain to bombings: Vitalii Iarema's story
Updated: Mar 10
Putin's war in Ukraine has been merciless. Here is the story of one fintech expert and his family as they try to survive.
Just two weeks ago, blockchain and fintech marketing expert, Vitalii Iarema began his day like any other. "I woke up in the morning, cooked breakfast for my wife and child", Vitalii reflects. "She woke up the child, and we all had breakfast. My wife took our child to school and went to work, in the old centre of Kyiv".
An ordinary life
"Our life was ordinary", Vitalii explains. "I started work at 9 o'clock or 10 o'clock in the morning. A lot of calls, solving the right questions". Like many of us in the fintech community - including myself - Vitalii works remotely.
Vitalii's a marketing expert and well-respected in his field.
The family were busy getting on with their day, and looking forward to an upcoming trip to Germany.
But everything came to an abrupt halt, as Vitalli explains, "Killers came to our country".
"Killers came to our country"
Putin's attack on Ukraine was sudden and unprovoked. "The first night, I was woken up by the sound of an explosion", Vitalii elaborates. Although the noise was unsettling, war wasn't the first thought that crossed his mind. As he explained, it was louder than a car wheel but he didn't feel that he was in imminent danger.
"The next day, we watched from the window of our house as Ukrainian military equipment moved in large columns towards Zhytomyr", Vitalii remembers. "We still didn't believe it. We thought it was all a 'joke'.
"At the exit from Kyiv, many hours of traffic jams have already formed and people began to leave the city en masse. The funny thing is that we did not hear the sirens that sounded in the centre of Kyiv.... And the only thing we woke up from was the sound of explosions".
Surrounded by danger
Bombs have rained down on Ukrainians over the past twelve days. More than 480 citizens now are confirmed dead - but experts believe the real figure is much higher. And over 800 have been left seriously injured. For those still living there, the tirade of shells and explosions is a constant threat.
"Do you what that sound is?" asks Vitalii. "It's like, strong thunder, and soon you will have rain. It's just that there's no rain. The only thing there... is fear!"
"It is difficult to understand and comprehend until you hear this thunder, the thunder that should bring warm spring rain, but brings death".
Before becoming a blockchain marketing guru, Vitalii was a fireman. He's been in dangerous situations and faced death head-on. But nothing could have prepared him for this.
"There, I knew how to act", he explained. "I knew how to help people. But here? Here you are [left] to chance".
Leaving everything behind
"On the third day of the war, we woke up from strong explosions near Kyiv - it was 4 o'clock in the morning" Vitalii recounts.
"I made the decision that I had to leave".
"In 60 minutes, we collected the most necessary things, and started the road towards the city of Zhytomyr. We stood in a traffic jam for more than four hours, and this was just to leave the city of Kyiv".
Vitalii and his family were lucky to escape the city in time. Within just two days, the bridge they had queued on was blown up. Many of the bridges around Kyiv have been destroyed by Ukrainian forces to prevent the convoy of Russian tanks taking over the capital city.
Where are Vitalii and his family now?
Vitalii and his family no longer have their beautiful family home. His wife does not have her job anymore, and their child is not attending school. At just eleven years old, he has witnessed things that nobody of any age should endure. "He doesn't understand what is happening", says Vitalii.
For now, they are staying in the Carpathians - a length of mountains covering Ukraine, Romania, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Czechia and Serbia in an arc around Eastern Europe. But they are not out of danger yet. "It can hardly be called security", explains Vitalii. "We have a lot of saboteurs around the country. And the situation is changing every hour".
They've swapped their perfect city home for a cramped hostel room. But despite this, Vitalii is grateful. "We are lucky, we are alive, we are safe. We have something to eat, we have a place to sleep. We are very lucky", he says.
Vitalii's parents-in-law are not with them. They're stranded in the Eastern city of Kramatorsk. "We're trying to get them out of there", says Vitalii.
In a brief and heart-breaking moment, Vitalii said that he hopes his son survives. It's not often that I cry while writing an article.
Incredible pain and bravery
Over the next week, Vitalii's family plan to seek refuge in Europe. Along with his wife and child, he hopes the grandmother and great-grandmother will join too. But Vitalii himself will not be going with them. He's making the brave decision to stay behind.
"I have the opportunity to work remotely and also help our army from anywhere in the world, but I cannot leave the country", Vitalii explains. "In the coming days, my wife will leave for Europe".
"When we'll see each other, I don't know".
Can you help?
Once he has finished fighting, Vitalii is looking to start life again. He wants a safe place to raise his family. And for now, his family urgently need a place to go. He's looking to relocate ideally to France, Portugal or the UK.
As he says, "I am ready to pay taxes in your country in the future. I just need a little help in the beginning!"
What struck me most of all about Vitalii was his polite refusal of favours or charity. It's the kind of dignity you rarely encounter. As Vitalii states, his goal is to, "not be a burden for the state, and continue to live in a country that can accept us. Pay taxes there and live in peace".
Final words from Vitalii
When asked what we can do, Vitalii had these words to say. When every day could be your last, he got straight to the point.
"Help my family adapt, and other families if possible.
Help our army, they protect Europe from Russian aggression.
The whole world supports us, but these are often just words. Ukraine has become a shield for Europe while Europeans sleep soundly in their beds and drink coffee in restaurants".