Londoner returns home from Kyiv as Russian threat of war heats up

James Banks, 31, says that he felt compelled to return home to his five year old son but that some of his expat friends are choosing to remain in Kyiv.

A British expat living in Ukraine has returned home this week amid mounting tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

James Banks, a 31-year-old esports host from east London moved to Kyiv in 2019 for work.

Esports host James Banks moved to Kyev in 2019 for work. Credit: James Banks

The father-of-one returned to London on Monday, just days after the UK government advised all British expats to leave the country while commercial means were still available.

The USA said Russia could invade “any day now” and told its own citizens to leave, however Russian President Vladmir Putin denies that he is planning an attack.

Banks says that he felt compelled to return home to his five-year-old son but that some of his expat friends are choosing to remain in Kyiv.

Ukrainian troops take part in a military drill outside the city of Rivne on February 16, 2022. (Photo by ARIS MESSINIS/AFP via Getty Images)

“I still don’t believe it’s going to happen,” Banks told LondonWorld.

“But I have a five-year-old son who’s here in the UK and if there’s a 1% chance there could be war, my family have to worry about what would happen to me.

“It’s just not worth it.

“Some of my American friends left straight away, while I have a friend from Colombia who has decided to stay as he has a kid there.

“A friend of mine who is British, he and his Ukrainian girlfriend also left on Tuesday and are now both in London.”

James Banks, a 31-year-old esports host from east London moved to Kyiv in 2019 for work. Credit James Banks

Despite international concerns of impending conflict between Ukraine and Russia, Banks says that before he left everyone was generally going about their normal day to day business in Kyiv.

“They all believe that not much is going to happen,” he explained.

“There are obviously people who think that it’s going to get bad if something does happen, they need to be prepared for it, but they’ve been on the brink of war for a long time.”

Russia last invaded Ukraine in early 2014, after the removal of the country’s pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych.

Ukrainian troops take part in a military drill outside the city of Rivne on February 16, 2022. (Photo by ARIS MESSINIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Russian forces took over the Crimean peninsula and backed rebels from the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic who seized large parts of eastern Ukraine.

The rebels have been fighting the Ukrainian military ever since and more than 14,000 people have been killed.

Although Russia has said it is beginning to pull back troops, US President Joe Biden predicted on Tuesday that there are currently 150,000 Russian soldiers at the Ukraine border.

On Wednesday morning, Banks received a message from his friend in Odessa, in southern Ukraine saying that a checkpoint with armed soldiers was set up near his house.

“If things get better in a few weeks I’ll be back to Kyiv,” says esports host James Banks. Credit: James Banks

“I think now the younger people are more concerned but the older people are used to war from the USSR times,” he said.

“I have an old lady who is a neighbour of mine who told me: ‘I’m not moving, this is my home, let them come if they want.’

“I think that people just look at it like, this is a bad situation, they understand that the rest of the world doesn’t really care.

“In my opinion, I think that it’s only in the self interest of other governments to want to help Ukraine because they didn’t care about Crimea, they let it happen.

"If Russia was able to take over all of Ukraine, although I don’t think that’s going to happen and certainly no one wants it to happen, but if they did that’s a big political scare for the other countries around the world.

“They didn’t care when it was just Crimea, now that it could be all of Ukraine, they’re starting to actually care because it can affect them."

Banks said that he feels like one of the lucky ones as he’s in a position where coming home isn’t so difficult for him.

“I don’t have a lot of the things that I want, I can’t work at the moment but I’m working on a solution for it,” he said.

“If things get better in a few weeks I’ll be back to Kyiv.”