High-tech

South African Internet pioneer stuck in Ukraine — describes evacuation from Kyiv

South African Internet pioneer Ronnie Apteker confirmed in a blog post on Monday evening that when Russia invaded Ukraine, he was in Kyiv with his family.

Apteker co-founded one of South Africa’s earliest commercial Internet service providers in 1993 with Philip Green, Tom Mcwalter, and Joe Silva — The Internet Solution (TIS).

TIS was renamed Internet Solutions and eventually sold to Dimension Data, which in turn was acquired by the Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation.

In 2020, Dimension Data announced that it was ending the Internet Solutions brandalong with Systems Integration, Britehouse, and Continuity SA.

Apteker has been a regular traveler to Ukraine since first visiting the country in December 2007.

“I love Kyiv. It is one of the world’s best-kept secrets,” he writes in a post titled Slava Ukraine (Glory to Ukraine).

“It is a beautiful and big city full of passion and culture. The place where Fiddler on the Roof comes from.”

In 2016 Apteker invested in an apartment in Kyiv and spent at least six months of every year in the country.

When Russian forces invaded, he was in Kyiv with his wife Marta and 18-month-old son (affectionately referred to as “The Bunster”).

I got about 6 hours of sleep last night. I had slept about 5 hours over the previous 3 nights and this morning my head is not pounding. So I am sitting here trying to capture some of things I have seen in the past 3 days.

Apteker said air raid sirens woke them at around 05:30 on Friday while it was still dark and about 2 degrees outside.

“Marta told me to pack fast. I was in a state of shock. I packed mainly food and stuff for the Bunster. I did take my laptop. I got no clothes now and will need to get some soon,” he wrote.

“The drive out of Kyiv was like something out of a movie. Cars as far as the eye could see.”

Each vehicle was jammed with luggage so that you could not see into the rear window of any car.

Europe could be facing the biggest refugee crisis ever. And yes, I am now a refugee too.

Road from Kyiv to Lviv in Ukraine

Apteker said it took them two hours to drive the first 50 kilometers.

Tanks were coming into the city with soldiers in big military vehicles on the opposite side of the road.

“These were the Ukrainian soldiers going to fight. Fighter jets were flying overhead, and bomb blasts were heard and all the cars shook. There was fear in the air, and all of us were sweating non-stop. It was surreal.”

It took them around 17 hours to drive 500 kilometers.

“The last 3 hours of the drive was on makeshift country backroads filled with potholes that South Africans would be shocked by.”

When they arrived at his wife’s aunt and uncle’s place in Lviv, they collapsed before attempting the next part of their journey — crossing the border into Poland.

“We saw civilians on the sides of roads taking down road signs so that Russian infiltrators did not know where to go,” Apteker wrote.

I saw so many things that looked truly bizarre. Road blocks of course are everywhere… And yes, there are babushkas with guns.

“The Bunster” Apteker

Apteker said they found it impossible to cross the border.

His descriptions of the situation at the border matches others who are stuck in Lviv.

They had a plan to make the crossing using a diplomatic connection, but Apteker said the law changed at the last minute.

“Yes, we tried some chutzpah move and almost pulled it off, with a connection, but we are now back in Lviv, with family, and this is where we will stay for this week,” he wrote.

“We have the Bunster and some people are waiting in their cars, or on foot, for over 60 hours. It is snowing now, and we cannot sit in a car for days with a baby.”

He said that trying to drive another way around to cross the border isn’t practical either.

“It doesn’t matter what it says on Google. There are road blocks everywhere. Civilians are checking for Ukrainian males that may not be joining the war effort. I have a foreign accent and an Austrian passport, so they let us get on our way.”

We are 600 km from Kyiv and away from the danger. Of course, if Putin drops a nuclear bomb this week, then who knows where it will be safe … anywhere in the world.

Please do not give my number to anyone

Apteker thanked people for the outpouring of love and support they have received.

“I have also been swamped with nonsense. People telling me they have a friend who can help, or, when I get to Poland they have a friend who will take us for dinner and look after us,” he said.

“No one can help. But thank you.”

Apteker also said he is getting far too many messages from people he doesn’t know.

“Please do not give my number to anyone. I cannot keep up with the texts, and no one can help us. I know you mean well, but you are not helping us at all.”


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