Photo credit: ERIC YAP

Worried and heartbroken: How a Singaporean seafarer with Ukrainian friends felt as the Russian invasion began

Hearing from my Ukrainian friends made me realise the harsh realities of war.

Eric Yap

Published: 2 March 2022, 7:47 PM

The ongoing Russia-Ukraine war has hit a lot closer to home as I have friends from the region.

Since 2019, as a seafarer, I have sailed on various container vessels with crewmates and officers of many different nationalities. These include Filipinos, Burmese, Sri Lankans, Russians, Ukrainians, and fellow Singaporeans as well. 

I’ve gotten the chance to work very closely with these crewmates and officers as we usually spend several months out at sea. The crew and officers have various roles, such as navigational watches on the bridge, cargo watches on deck, passage planning and the maintenance of the ship and its appliances. Through these experiences, I’ve forged friendships and camaraderie with them.

On Feb 24, an hour before noon, I was shocked by news of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. I found myself overwhelmed by concurrent information coming in from friends, news outlets and social media. 

In a panic, I quickly checked against various news sources to confirm the details of the invasion. Recognising that this was no minor border conflict but rather a full-scale invasion on multiple fronts, I immediately thought about the safety of my Ukrainian friends and their families.

My Ukrainian colleagues were some of my closest friends onboard the vessels. They were warm and friendly, and played an integral part in guiding and mentoring me during my time as a cadet.

I took to Instagram to reach out to two of them, Serhiy, 36, and Oleksandr, 31. In my mind, I had a few concerns – whether they are currently in Ukraine, whether their families are safe, and what is happening right now. I was unsure if I would get a response from either of them, but I knew I had to at least try.

A few hours later, Serhiy replied to my Instagram direct message. He shared with me that he is still onboard a vessel for work. Fortunately, his family is safe and is preparing to flee westwards. I was relieved to hear that. 

Knowing how slow and unreliable the connection onboard can be, it must have been really difficult for him to confirm his family’s whereabouts and safety.


Serhiy’s reply put my mind at ease. The uncertainty of our family’s well-being is a compromise all seafarers take when we are out sailing for months. PHOTO CREDIT: ERIC YAP


However, my relief was short-lived. Moments later, my heart sank when I received Oleksandr’s reply. Oleksandr informed me that he was back at home with his family in Ukraine, but the Russian troops were just 50km away from his home. It was surreal and worrying to receive this update.


I was very worried knowing how close Oleksandr was to the conflict. PHOTO CREDIT: ERIC YAP


The entire situation felt like a nightmare, especially after hearing from them and seeing on social media the devastation and casualties suffered on both sides. 

I sent them my well-wishes and decided it was best not to continue asking them questions, as I believe they had to focus their time and energy on ensuring their families’ safety. 

It was, however, slightly reassuring and inspiring that the both of them remained positive, hopeful, and strong during this time.


Serhiy (in white) having a drink with me and my other crewmates. PHOTO CREDIT: ERIC YAP


Nevertheless, the situation is heartbreaking. Through my job, I understood the importance of maintaining racial harmony and multicultural friendships. 

Having to spend many months together on a vessel, there is no running away from a problem or a person. Hence, the crew onboard made it a point to understand the various cultures and beliefs. We were able to build trust and respect, and compromise whenever necessary.


My crewmates and I enjoying dinner together onboard the vessel. PHOTO CREDIT: ERIC YAP


I believe that in wars, there are no real winners. The casualties and deaths of civilians can never be justified. Peaceful, diplomatic and cooperative resolutions should always be the approach to solving issues.

The world leaders will need to deal with this situation with words and cooperation, rather than sending young soldiers to fight their war.

While the situation is uncertain now, I look forward to seeing Serhiy and Oleksandr in beautiful Ukraine someday. Hopefully, both countries can emerge out of the war with a peaceful resolution soon.

Eric Yap, 26, is a deck cadet. He signed-off his last vessel in February 2021, and is currently taking his Class 3 Deck Officer examinations.

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