'Fighting for our land and freedom': Miss Ukraine 2018 describes journey with son fleeing war with Russia
LOS ANGELES - As the Russia-Ukraine war continues, Miss Ukraine Veronika Didusenko came forward in Los Angeles Tuesday to describe the personal journey she and her 7-year-old son experienced when they fled Ukraine during what is being called Europe's worst refugee crisis since World War II.
Didusenko, who was crowned Miss Ukraine in 2018, spoke alongside women's rights attorney Gloria Allred, describing their journey from Kiev that began on Feb. 24.
"We were awakened by sirens and explosions in Kiev… a city of more than 3 million people, who was asleep… and without any formal declaration of war, without any hope for its inhabitants to take shelter, was hit by an enemy bomb," she said.
"We along with tens of thousands of other families tried to get out of the city… there was a traffic jam on the highway on the way out of Kiev for many hours," she added. "Directly above my head dozens of Russian helicopters with troops were bombing… bombing…"
"As I was fleeing with my young son, I could see there was a real air battle above our heads," she recalled.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is continuing unabated, with 2 million people — half of them children — forced to flee the country as the war grows more severe.
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Russian aircraft bombed cities in eastern and central Ukraine overnight, Ukrainian officials said. Shelling pounded suburbs of Kyiv. Bombs also hit oil depots in two other towns.
"On our journey, there was no place where sirens would not sound, where rockets and bombs would not explode," Didusenko said.
She and her son traveled through four countries - Moldova, Romania, Luxembourg, and Switzerland - to seek refuge with friends.
"Right now millions of Ukrainian mothers and children are traveling… even more heartbreaking… women are giving birth in such conditions," she said.
Didusenko went on to thank fallen heroes, recognizing several women in honor of International Women's Day today.
The death toll of the conflict has been difficult to measure. The U.N. human rights office said Tuesday it has confirmed 474 civilian deaths in Ukraine since the war began on Feb. 24. The number of confirmed civilian injuries now stands at 861, it said, though the actual figures are likely considerably higher.
"We are fighting for our land and freedom," she said.
President Joe Biden announced Tuesday a ban on Russian oil imports in retaliation for its war of Ukraine. The move follows pleas by Zelenskyy to U.S. and Western officials to cut off the imports. Energy exports have kept a steady influx of cash flowing to Russia despite otherwise severe restrictions on its financial sector.
A growing number of multinational businesses have cut Russia off from vital financial services in response to Western economic sanctions. The most recent big-name brands to suspend services in Russia are streaming service Netflix and cosmetics giant Estee Lauder.
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.