Despite the threat of war, some Americans in Ukraine are staying put The U.S. government is telling Americans it's "past time" to leave Ukraine. But James Berk, an optician from New Jersey, has a Ukrainian wife and a newborn baby. For now, they're staying put.

Despite the threat of war, some Americans in Ukraine are staying put

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The U.S. government has warned thousands of Americans in Ukraine that it's past time to leave, yet for a range of reasons, some U.S. citizens are staying, despite the threat of a Russian invasion. NPR's Greg Myre shares some of those stories.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: American James Berk is an optician from Montclair, N.J. He's living in Ukraine's capital, Kyiv, with his Ukrainian wife, Anna, and their newborn daughter, Sophie.

JAMES BERK: My job right now is I'm raising our daughter. She's under 4 weeks old. And she is, you know, doing what newborns do.


MYRE: So it's a bit hectic in their apartment. And the Russians could invade any day. The family got some good news this week when their daughter received her U.S. passport, allowing her to travel. But Anna has a Ukrainian passport and doesn't have a visa to travel to the U.S.

BERK: Even if we wanted to leave and go to the states, we couldn't do that because she has to get a visa. And with the embassy closed down, that's not an option for us, unfortunately.

MYRE: The U.S. has temporarily shut the embassy in the capital and is running a scaled-down operation in Lviv, a city 300 miles to the west. Berk has rented a car in case the family needs to make a quick dash for the border. But for now, they're staying put.

BERK: It's a difficult decision for us. It's one we're constantly reevaluating. We've packed our bags so we can leave if they cut the power and we have to kind of hit the road very quickly.

MYRE: U.S. officials estimate 20,000 or more Americans were living in Ukraine, though the numbers are going down as U.S. citizens pull out. Those remaining include Katherine Quinn-Judge, who spent the past several years analyzing Ukraine's security situation for think tanks. She keeps close watch on the existing conflict in eastern Ukraine.

KATHERINE QUINN-JUDGE: For the last four years or so, I've been kind of living and breathing this war. I would feel really horrible if I left, you know, if I watched the city I've been living in being shelled and - you know, and had to think about my neighbors and everything. I would much rather stay and just see what happens.

MYRE: Residents of Kyiv are growing more concerned, she says, but are still living their lives.

QUINN-JUDGE: Kyiv is this really fun, sort of mercantile, vibrant, colorful city. It was not a place where people are sort of walking around stoically, stockpiling food and water.

MYRE: She estimates half the Americans she knows have left. While Quinn-Judge expects to stay, she has an exit plan just in case.

QUINN-JUDGE: I bought a train ticket. I've made sure that I have, you know, all the documentation that I need for my three cats. And I bought a new cat backpack to make traveling with them easier.

MYRE: John Vsetecka is among those Americans who recently left - with reluctance. He's a Fulbright scholar who was working on his doctorate in history in Ukraine when the Fulbright program told him he had three days to leave.

JOHN VSETECKA: It was all quite overwhelming. I don't think I slept for three days.

MYRE: The transition hasn't been easy. He flew to Warsaw, Poland, and found an Airbnb. But he no longer has access to the archives he was working in. Vsetecka said some of his fellow scholars are preparing for new roles.

VSETECKA: A lot of us have transitioned from being scholars to now activists. If Russia does come into Ukraine, I think a lot of us are willing to help them in any way that we can.

MYRE: For now, all they can do is wait. Greg Myre, NPR News.

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