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Carolinians share how Russia's invasion of Ukraine is impacting their families

“When you start to get nuclear weaponry involved, we're not just talking about Kyiv anymore. We're talking about the world," Elijah Toney said.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Tensions continue to rise in Ukraine after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered its nuclear forces to be put on high alert on Sunday, Feb. 27.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of people are fleeing the war-stricken country. Some of those trying to escape are from or have loved ones in the Carolinas.

South Carolinian Brooke Prince is worried about her 83-year-old grandmother, Halyna, who lives alone in the heart of Kyiv, Ukraine's capital.

“You can literally hear the fear in her voice. She hears bombs from her apartment. It's terrifying because we can't guarantee her safety... everything is changing so rapidly, that we don't know what tomorrow is going to look like.” Prince said.

Credit: Brooke Prince

Like many Ukrainian residents, their lives have been turned upside down. Prince told WCNC Charlotte on Sunday that Halyna is devastated by what she is seeing happen to the place she calls home.

Brooke’s mother and brother immigrated to the United States about 25 years ago. For the last five years, they have been in the process of getting her grandmother a visa to come to America, especially after her grandfather passed away.

In fact, they were in the very last stages of the immigration process.

“We were supposed to have her visa interview on Feb. 23 of this year... we were so close to her coming to the United States, but obviously, we aren't able to now because of the war in Ukraine," Prince explained.

That interview was canceled due the Russian invasion. The clock is ticking as her family fight to get Halyna out of the country. Prince tells us it is even more critical now that nuclear forces are on high alert.

“I'm scared but I’m not surprised. I think Russia will do anything it takes to achieve what they want to achieve right now.” she said.

“When you start to get nuclear weaponry involved, we're not just talking about Kyiv anymore. We're talking about the world,” said her boyfriend Elijah Toney, who’s helping her with the evacuation efforts.

RELATED: Putin puts nuclear forces on high alert, escalating tensions with the West

Then there's Matt Thacker, a Charlotte native. He's lived with his wife in Ukraine for nearly a decade. They hoped to ride things out hiding out in a cellar under their apartment balcony.

Credit: Matt Thacker

“We sort of cleared out some of the junk there, we like made a hamster bed out of like old clothes and stuff.” Thacker said, but added the devastation became too much.

“A jet was shot down over our apartment and crashed into the building behind us and we saw it," he explained. "So, you know, the flash of light, the huge explosion that just shakes the walls.”

They managed to make it to western Ukraine unharmed but they don’t know how long it'll be before they can evacuate.

Credit: Matt Thacker
Matt Thacker shared this photo to WCNC Charlotte from Ukraine amid the Russian invasion.

“The train stations are sort of in lockdown and that's kind of everywhere. There are no tickets anymore. You just kind of show up somewhere and hope you find something. A lot of the organization of things is sort of broken down here,” Thacker explained. 

He and his wife vowed to stick together.

“We said no matter what happens, we're never going to separate. So even if we have to stay in a more dangerous situation, we're just going to be together,” Thacker said.

Among the chaos, Thacker said he is empowered by the Ukrainians’ strength and resilience as they fight for their country. He leaves us with the national chant “Glorious Ukraine” and the response “Glory to the Heroes.”

The married couple plan to continue their journey to Europe.

RELATED: FedEx stops all shipments to Russia amid ongoing invasion in Ukraine

“I really hope that everyone who hears this takes to heart the situation here. I know it’s said so often that 'democracy is at stake,' but in this case, it’s true. Call representatives, join marches and protests, donate, share posts and news, stay informed and invoked. This is too important to be forgotten or dismissed,” Thacker said.

Meanwhile, Prince is connecting with people on social media hoping to find someone who will transport her grandmother to the border. She said she's overwhelmed by the level of support following her Facebook post and sharing of story. Moreover, she said she's amazed at the number of people coming together to help, and connect her family with resources to help evacuate her grandma.

My heart is heavy writing this. I plead with you all that you will take a moment to read. My name is Brooke, whether I...

Posted by Brooke Prince on Thursday, February 24, 2022

The hope among them is that Ukraine is victorious and stays intact so they can come back home someday.

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“I applaud the people of Ukraine, especially the leaders of Ukraine right now, and how they are standing up and fighting for their country. I think that is admirable, and it's very honorable,” Toney said.

Brooke created this email for all resources and inquiries to support her grandma helpforhalyna@gmail.com.

Contact Jesse Pierre at jpierrepet@wcnc.com or follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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