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Americans living in Ukraine question President Biden's warning to leave immediately


National security adviser Jake Sullivan said at the White House today he doesn't think Russia has reached a final decision on whether to invade Ukraine. Still, President Biden is advising Americans to leave Ukraine, and many expatriates who have put down roots there are unsure of what to do. NPR's Joanna Kakissis reports from the western Ukrainian city of Lviv.


JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Father Philip Gilbert walks outside a Greek Catholic monastery near the cobblestoned historic center of Lviv. He moved to Lviv three years ago to get a master's degree in theology.

PHILIP GILBERT: And now I've stayed on for another degree, and I've gotten married, and now my life is more or less here in Ukraine.

KAKISSIS: But his family and friends back home in California are worried.

GILBERT: I get lots of messages and emails from people back in the states asking how I'm doing. Am I OK? Am I safe? Any mother who's on the other side of the world worries because she doesn't exactly know all the details.

KAKISSIS: His family and Ukrainian friends are calm. He and his fellow clergy don't even discuss evacuation plans.

GILBERT: That's not to say there isn't a real threat. I'm not leaving anywhere without my wife, and my wife is not an American citizen and can't enter the United States. So while I'm aware and keeping my eye on the situation, we're planning to stay here. I mean, there's really no other option.

KAKISSIS: In a suburban patisserie run by a Crimean baker, another American, James Joeriman, is working on his laptop. He's from Delaware. He's lived and worked in Ukraine for almost a decade.

JAMES JOERIMAN: I'm president of Rotary Club Lviv International. I'm married. I have two kids, a cat and a hamster.

KAKISSIS: He's lost count of how many evacuation emails he's received from the U.S. embassy. He's torn between leaving and staying. His kids are in school. His wife's family is here. His business is here.

JOERIMAN: If I don't absolutely have to upend all of that - because I'm afraid once that's upended, it - may never be able to come back here and restore what we had.

KAKISSIS: But then he wonders, what if the Russians invade?

JOERIMAN: I sit and ask myself, like, what are you doing? Even if it's a small risk, you're responsible for more than your own life. So it weighs heavy on me, and I keep it inside.

KAKISSIS: He decided to book a flight to the U.S. for himself and his family after getting a phone call from the U.S. embassy. Several other countries, including the U.K., the Netherlands and Japan, are also urging their citizens to leave.

Joanna Kakissis, NPR News, Lviv. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joanna Kakissis is a foreign correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she reports poignant stories of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.