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Ukrainian father gives his son Batman toy and a message: 'Be brave'

This Kyiv pediatrician and dad drove his family 40 hours to safety, then turned around to go back and fight for his country.

As Russian military forces descended on Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, a pediatrician and father of two small sons drove his family to safety, then planned to go back and fight.

Dr. Y, whose name has been withheld to protect his safety and the safety of his family, has been a pediatrician in Kyiv, Ukraine, for more than 15 years. The father of two boys, ages 5 and almost 1, fled Kyiv with his wife and children, driving them to a safer location in the west of Ukraine before planning to return to work and, he said, to fight Russian soldiers.

"Traffic is horrible — like any apocalyptic movie."

"Traffic is horrible — like any apocalyptic movie," Dr. Y told TODAY Parents via phone and, later, via WhatsApp after experiencing connection issues. Internet access in Ukraine has been disrupted during the Russian invasion, as reported by Reuters.

"Three hours of driving (using) different streets to leave Kyiv and get to a highway. Lots of cars with kids; pets (being taken) away from big cities; long lines to petrol stations; lots of Ukrainian military cars and troops going into Kyiv."

Dr. Y said that his family had lives that were "peaceful and full of plans" before Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian troops to invade Ukraine.

"We bought a bee costume for my son, Lucas, for his Spring holiday in his kindergarten," he added. "It was planned for March 3."

Dr. Y and his wife left the bee costume behind, fleeing their home in their family's car with only one emergency bag and "one favorite Batman toy, to be brave."

A picture of Dr. Y's 5-year-old son, fleeing Kyiv, Ukraine and holding his favorite Batman toy "to be brave." His face has been blurred to protect his safety and the safety of his family.
A picture of Dr. Y's 5-year-old son, fleeing Kyiv, Ukraine and holding his favorite Batman toy "to be brave." His face has been blurred to protect his safety and the safety of his family.Courtesy Dr. Y.

"My wife and I have talked to (our children), trying to explain and prepare them earlier," Dr. Y said. "We used my son Lucas's favorite superhero, Batman, as an example to be brave and fast. (We have) asked Lucas to help with our younger son. We also trained him to be fast and calm, (telling him that) our army will take care of us and protect us."

Ukraine no longer allows men between the ages of 18 and 60 to leave the country — they must stay and fight Russian soldiers, regardless of whether or not they are members of the military.

When asked if he was afraid to return to Kyiv, Dr. Y was unwavering and abundantly clear.

"No," he said. "I am ready to fight and I am angry as any Ukrainian now. With no doubts."

Invading Russian forces have met stronger-than-expected resistance from the Ukrainian military. Ordinary citizens are learning to make Molotov cocktails. A reported 13 Ukrainian soldiers told a Russian warship to "go f--- yourself" after they were warned they would be bombed if they did not surrender.

All 13 Ukrainian soldiers were initially thought to have been killed. Now, reports indicate they may be alive and have been captured by Russian forces, according to a statement from the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine posted on Facebook.

Related: 12 photos that show what’s going on in Ukraine right now

While evacuating, Dr. Y said he remains in near-constant contact with his patients and their families, speaking to parents via phone while driving his family to a safer location.

"They are afraid, mostly parents," he said. "(I'm) trying to calm them down."

Recently, a Russian shell hit a hospital in Kramatorsk, killing four people and wounding 10 others. A children's hospital in Kyiv specializing in treating kids with cancer was allegedly damaged by Russian artillery, according to local reports — one child was reportedly killed. Infants from the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at a hospital located in eastern Ukraine were moved into a bomb shelter on Thursday, as reported by The New York Times. Video shows NICU nurses manually providing aspiration to the newborns, who were wrapped in blankets.

"My biggest concern is (any) direct attacks on hospitals," Dr. Y said. According to Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, 16 Ukrainian children have been killed and an additional 45 have been wounded after 5 days of Russian attacks.

When TODAY spoke with Dr. Y, he said neither he nor his colleagues have treated any children for war-related injuries, but he worries about it, and said he knows that many other hospitals have been caring for children hurt as a result of the Russian invasion.

"We have almost three big multi-departments, clinics, and I think that they have kids (who have injuries from the war)," he shared. "We are ready to work in any situation — we have all the equipment to continue our work. We are ready to work in any situation."

Related: World landmarks lit blue and yellow in solidarity with Ukraine

In a follow-up conversation via WhatsApp, Dr. Y shared that it took him 40 hours to drive his family to safety. He will spend a day or two with them, then go back and fight, saying that he has promised his wife "that everything will be OK with our boys. And we hug."

"(My children) are under stress because of the night explosions, and staying in bomb shelters for hours," he explained.

"Our biggest fear is to lose friends, relatives, children in every city in Ukraine," he added. "We don't want any war — we don't need Russian 'help.' Our biggest hope is to celebrate our son's first birthday on March 19, at home with no explosions in peaceful Kyiv."