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South African who escaped Ukraine conflict has found happiness in Russia

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Ten months after walking for 16 hours and hustling for rides to escape from Ukraine when Russia launched its attack, Johan Nel said he faced trauma following the experience.

However, the online teacher is now living in Russia where he made new friends and found the love of his life.

Speaking to TimesLIVE, he said he does not want to relive the four-day horror of escaping from Ukraine in February last year.

“I am coping. It is no longer that bad. It was hectic at the time it happened. The experience was very bad but I took good lessons out of it. It made me realise things can happen instantly that you never thought would happen in a million years,” he said.

Nel was in Ukraine on a tourist visa to apply for a Mexican work visa as he worked at a school in Mexico.

However, at 4.30am on February 24 he was woken by the sounds of bombs and sirens.

For two days he could not leave his apartment as public transport was not available. On the third day he linked up with a British-Pakistani national who he had met in a Telegram group. The group was started to assist foreign nationals in preparation of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

While running for cover every 10 minutes, it took the pair 22 hours and a $1,000 taxi fare to reach the border, where they found a 30km queue of cars waiting to cross over.

Nel and his friend decided to ditch the traffic to take on the 14-hour walk to the Polish border. The two lost each other along the way.

After 50 hours without sleep, Nel managed to get a lift from Ukrainian soldiers headed to the border. He made his way to the checkpoint for a medical check as he had damaged a hamstring during the long walk.

Four days later, the South African entered a peaceful Slovakia, where he was welcomed with open arms.

He was offered therapy to learn how to cope with the harrowing experience.

“I opened up and the therapist gave me pointers on how to face everything and how to go through it. I am very grateful for that.”

“ I am now in Moscow, Russia. I live and work here and got into a serious relationship with a Russian woman. I have a great group of friends who are Russian.”

After spending the festive season with his girlfriend, he planned to work at a winter camp.

Nel has remained in contact with the British-Pakistani national but said his friend wants nothing to do with anyone who asks about the situation.

“He does not want to talk about it and is cutting off anyone and anything that reminds him of what he went through.”

Source: TimesLIVE

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