The Swedes who stay in Ukraine

The Swedes who stay in Ukraine

By: Anna Karolina Eriksson/TT

Published: Less than 20 min ago

Aircraft alarms, robot attacks and a drastically changed everyday life. But also a sense of community and context.

Meet three Swedes who have chosen to stay in wartime Ukraine.

Scania manager Håkan: “Pure evil” near our office

In Butja, which last year became infamous for war crimes and devastation, the truck manufacturer Scania’s headquarters are located. Head of Ukraine Håkan Jyde’s everyday life there is characterized by security considerations and admiration for the Ukrainians’ resilience.

– We have come very close to each other here. You really see what people go for, he tells TT.

Jyde’s memories of the outbreak of war are vivid. Schools had begun to close and embassies were flying out staff when the 50-year-old realized he had to evacuate his family.

– I drove out to the office in the morning and told them that we had to leave. Then I looked at my colleagues that now it’s serious, he says.

– Our thought then was that we will be back in a week or two.

He set up a temporary office in Riga and devoted a lot of work to trying to evacuate employees with families. A few months after the outbreak of war, he decided to return. The sight that met him in Butja outside Kiev was shocking.

The area was captured in early March 2022 by the Russians. When the invasion forces were driven out a few weeks later, a reign of terror was revealed with hundreds of civilian casualties, torture and rape.

– Our employees live in this area to a large extent. It was a huge destruction. Pure evil, says Jyde seriously.

The Scania plant had also been occupied.

– They (the Russians) had mined part of the facility. We got help to remove the mines, so step by step we were able to return. You can repair cars even with bullet holes in the walls.

Håkan Jyde has stayed in Ukraine and worked, but without his family there. The truck industry feels more important than ever, he thinks.

– When a society ends up in complete crisis, transport and logistics are absolutely crucial.

– This job is probably the most important job I will ever have.


UN employee Rabab: The war gives perspective

The bangs outside the window are deafening and 29-year-old Rabab Bassam from Örebro initially thinks it’s an accident. But her temporary hometown of Kiev has been hit by a robot attack for the first time in months.

– Then and then I realized that I am here, she tells TT.

The robot attack happened last fall. UN employee Bassam, who had been in Kiev for a few months at the time, says that in the chaos she acted contrary to the instructions she had received.

– What do I do? Running to the window, despite recommendations that we are fed with – to remove yourselves from all windows! That was my first reaction, which was not at all exemplary.

Rabab Bassam works for the UN refugee agency UNHCR. She has had the opportunity to leave the war-torn country but wants to stay in Ukraine until the end of the year – at least. Despite air raid alerts and robot attacks, everyday life has slowly taken over. The work is intense, but there is time for friends, home comfort and walks in the city.

– It is also a defense mechanism, to continue life as usual. But when the flight alarm goes off, we all go down to the shelter – whether you like it or not, you get used to it.

She never hesitated to go to a war-torn country.

– That the UN and UNHCR are present and continue their humanitarian work, it is needed. I can contribute my small part. For me, it was not on the map not to go, she says.

Overall, she doesn’t walk around feeling scared. However, the war affects in other ways.

– This thing about time, I’ve thought about that a lot. When I lived in Sweden and had a normal everyday life, I thought “I can do this tomorrow”, she says and continues:

– But last autumn when I had no electricity and sat there in the dark with a flashlight from Kjell & Company, I thought: “why didn’t I take that coffee break today?”. Nothing is guaranteed. You may be alive tomorrow, but you may not have electricity and water. Then it may not be possible to go out. You might be sitting in a cold basement for shelter. You gain perspective.


Soldier Tobias: War shows what life means

“I will be involved in the conflict until it is resolved. Hopefully on Ukraine’s terms.”

Just over a year ago, 26-year-old Tobias Engqvist left Umeå. Now he is on his second trip to Ukraine and is at the front – but is reticent about exactly where.

“Right now I am in a unit that operates in smaller teams/groups with very varied tasks. I can’t say more,” he writes in an email to TT.

His journey began at home in Umeå last year. Tobias Engqvist followed the news about Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine intensively. It was a pandemic and the distance learning made him yearn for something else.

He heard President Zelenskyi’s appeal for help from abroad and made a life-changing decision.

“I hesitated for a few days before contacting the Ukrainian embassy about going as a volunteer and fighting.”

It took three weeks from decision until he crossed the border about 200 miles from home.


“Because it is a very rewarding assignment that rewards me with experience of what life really means”.

The road to the front has been crooked. The newly formed Foreign Legion he first came into contact with did not hold together. Tobias Engqvist began taking care of the wounded in a medical battalion. At the same time, Butja and Irpin and all the war crimes were discovered, he writes.

“There I decided that I had to participate more actively in the conflict. But not through the Foreign Legion.”

In May of last year, he joined a then newly started company. Now his everyday life is very much about “waiting, waiting for shelling from artillery or solving a new task with leaps and bounds”. He has been home to Sweden once, the next break from the war is expected either in the summer or at Christmas.

“My family feels that it is difficult but is more accepting of my decision and more understanding of my motive.”

TT: Some who go to the front do it for the thrill or because they are interested in war. What do you say about that?

“There are some people like that here and I don’t feel like I can work with them. Precisely because they take unnecessary risks just for the sake of excitement,” replies Tobias Engqvist.

“Some have come because they are curious about what it feels like to kill another human being or because they get down to it and can do it legally here. Some because they can get a position of power of some kind.”

TT: Are you ever scared?

“Of course, but that always comes afterwards. I can’t be afraid when we have to solve tasks”.


Just over a year of war

On February 24, 2022, Russia launched a full-scale invasion of neighboring Ukraine. The invasion had been threatened for several months as Russian forces gathered at the border and the Kremlin issued ultimatums aimed at NATO with several hard-to-fulfill demands.

Russia invaded Ukraine back in 2014, which led to the annexation of the Crimean peninsula and a largely frozen conflict in Donbass in the east.

Last year, Russian forces attacked from the north, east and south, but a planned blitzkrieg failed. The Russian forces did not reach Kiev, but captured the large city of Kherson in the south and then a land corridor to the Crimean peninsula, after a long and bloody siege of the city of Mariupol.

In April, the Russian forces were completely driven out of northern Ukraine. In September, two Ukrainian counter-offensives were launched, where they were repulsed from Kharkiv county in the northeast and from the city of Kherson and its surroundings in the south.

In September, Russia said it was annexing the only partially occupied Kherson, Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhya counties, where fighting was still ongoing.

Russia has attacked cities across Ukraine with robots and drones, hitting many civilian targets. The suspected war crimes are many.

Tens of thousands of civilians are estimated to have been killed in the war, but the death toll is believed to be high. Tens of thousands more soldiers have fallen on each side, but even there it is difficult to count the dead.

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