Real-life Romeo and Juliet from Russia and Ukraine flee Putins war

A Ukrainian woman and her Russian husband have recounted the moment they and their young daughter escaped from Moscow after Vladimir Putin launched his invasion and their journey to their new home in Argentina. Liliia Shapoval and Lurii Kakashnikov fled Ukraine in mid-2022 following the Russian invasion, and together they travelled to Buenos Aires with their 11-year-old daughter. They sat down with the city’s local media and told the post-Soviet “Romeo and Juliet” love story that would be near impossible to replicate around 20 years later.

Ms Shapoval told Argentinian publication Infobae that she arrived in Moscow with Aleksandra, her daughter from her first marriage, in 2000.

The two arrived as Vladimir Putin’s then-fledgling government offered Ukrainian immigrants job opportunities.

Ms Shapoval quickly found work that allowed her to buy a flat and enrol her daughter in “very good schools”.

Back then, she said, “nobody could have anticipated the hatred and violence that we would experience between the two countries a few years later”.

She met Mr Kakashnikov in 2011, and the couple eventually married and welcomed a daughter, Olga.

They “stood up for the dignity of Ukraine” together during the country’s Maidan revolution of 2013 and joined protests again during the 2014 Crimean crisis and following the war in Donetsk.

Ms Shapoval said: “We were beaten and persecuted by the police.

“It all culminated in January 2021, after Navalny’s return to Moscow, my husband was beaten on the head during a demonstration and had to be stitched up.”

Ms Shapoval awoke to news of Russia’s invasion on February 24, 2022, while still living in Moscow.

She said she and her husband “looked at each other” and decided “we can’t live through this”.

They sought visas via European embassies and, after failing to get what they needed, set course for Argentina, a nation they could enter without the document.

Ms Shapoval said: “We decided to travel to Buenos Aires. Our only objective was to get away from the violent madness that was going on and still goes on in Russia.”

While they are content in their new lives, supported by rent from their Moscow apartment and Mr Kakashnikov’s income as a remote working computer programmer, they hope to return to Ukraine.

Aleksandra remains in Kyiv under “constant aerial alarm”, and her mother, two brothers and sister have remained in the country with their families.

She and her husband’s families are split, however, as while Mr Kakashnikov “hates Putin’s regime and has always fought against it”, his mother considers him a “traitor”.

Regardless, the couple hopes to bring her to sunny Buenos Aires, and together they hope that “far from the bombs”, they can close “the rift between the different ways of seeing the world”.

Additional reporting by Maria Ortega

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